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Correlation of the mechanical and structural properties of cortical rachis keratin of rectrices of the Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco)

Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.jmbbm.2011.01.010
  • Feather
  • Tensile Strength
  • Young’S Modulus
  • Weibull Distribution
  • Avian Keratin


Abstract Mechanical characterization of the cortex of rectrices (tail feathers) of the Toco Toucan ( Ramphastos toco) has been carried out by tensile testing of the rachis cortex in order to systematically determine Young’s modulus and maximum tensile strength gradients on the surfaces and along the length of the feather. Of over seventy-five samples tested, the average Young’s modulus was found to be 2.56±0.09 GPa, and maximum tensile strength was found to be 78±6 MPa. The Weibull modulus for all sets is greater than one and less than four, indicating that measured strength is highly variable. The highest Weibull moduli were reported for dorsal samplings. Dorsal and ventral surfaces of the cortex are both significantly stiffer and stronger than lateral rachis cortex. On the dorsal surface, cortex sampled from the distal end of the feather was found to be least stiff and weakest compared to that sampled from proximal and middle regions along the length of the feather. Distinctive fracture patterns correspond to failure in the superficial cuticle layer and the bulk of the rachis cortex. In the cuticle, where supramolecular keratinous fibers are oriented tangentially, evidence of ductile tearing was observed. In the bulk cortex, where the fibers are bundled and oriented longitudinally, patterns suggestive of near-periodic aggregation and brittle failure were observed.

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