An African bird as inspiration for better water bottles

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The African sandpiper – somewhat similar to sand-colored pigeons with odd patterns – has a clever trick for moving water from one place to another.

The researchers discovered this when they zoomed in close to the bird’s feathers. Using this trick, male sandpipers are able to transfer about 15 percent of their body weight in the water to their young while flying at about 40 miles per hour for half an hour.

It’s all in the design of the breast feathers, which the males lower into the water to suck up the water. Private springs were actually discovered about 50 years ago, but how exactly they hold water can now only be proven thanks to high-resolution microscopes.

All springs have specialized branches, chambers, and tubes that perfectly hold fluids. The researchers believe that the structure – now that they’ve mapped it to the smallest detail – could have inspired the capture, retention and release of liquid. For example, when catching water from the air, with a kind of feather net.

They are also thinking of a new type of water bag and bottle. The sand-based feather structure can ensure that the water does not overflow when you carry it with you. Better medical sampling, such as nasal swabs, should be possible with this design, according to the researchers.

Oh yeah, and good to mention: the examined feathers came from a male from the collection of the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology. They did not disturb wild grouse for this study.

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Read more about research here: How an African bird might inspire a better water bottle.

Megan Vasquez

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