Melanin does more than just protect against sun damage. It’s in our eyes and ears, a variant is used in our brain as a neurotransmitter, and apparently it also helps large birds fly.

A Corvid for Halloween

I was reading a story on NPR and I learned something interesting:

A lot of the colors in plants and animals come from pigments, colored chemicals that absorb certain wavelengths of light. Many pigments are useful in other ways — granules of melanin, for example, help keep bird feathers strong, and help protect human skin from the sun. Chlorophyll is a chemical that helps plants trap light for photosynthesis; it also makes them look green.

Melanin helps make feathers strong. It’s why large birds have black wing tips.

By far the most common type of pigment in bird feathers are the melanins. Melanins of different types impart black, brown and other earthy tones to a feather [....]

Besides providing color to feathers, melanin has another important function in birds. The presence of melanin grains strengthens the feathers. You can probably think of a number of large birds that have black wing tips. Northern Gannets, Snow Geese, Tundra Swans, White Ibis, Wood Storks, American White Pelicans, and Swallow-tailed Kites are good examples. For a flying bird, the outer feathers of the wing experience the most stress during flight. The birds above are not close relatives. All of them have evolved black-tipped wings to reduce the wear on their outer wing feathers. The presence of similar structures in unrelated species is called convergence; black wing tips are an excellent example of convergence.

Seagulls weren’t listed, but look at those tips!

But that’s not all! Melanin also helps protect against bacteria.

Melanin has been shown to protect feathers from microbial degradation that might, for example, hinder flight or mate attraction. Most studies have focused on the physical resistance to degradation that melanin provides.

I have other links, but they mostly say the same things.

I already knew that melanin was useful for protecting against damage from the sun, and I knew that we use it in our eyes and ears, but I did not know that it’s also sometimes used to provide structural integrity.

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I’m sharing this because I decided to try and post more (this is Sabriel with a Halloween name change) and because I attach sentimental value to random things.

(Now you can look at birds in the sky, see their black and brown wings, and know that melanin is giving them the strength to fly.)

I hope this isn’t weird, but if I had more melanin in my skin I would love the shit out of that. I still think it’s cool.

Bonus Trivia: Flamingos are only pink because they eat shrimp

I think I learned this at the zoo when I was like nine years old? NPR reminded me.