Designed for Sex

It is difficult to look at human reproduction and not realize that every physical part of our bodies has a beautiful and functional purpose. Because of the complexity of man, these design features can get lost in our emotions and cultural traditions. In the budgerigar parrot, however, there seems to be a structure that is 100% designed to serve as a sexual tool.

Budgerigars absorb ultraviolet light and then reemit it at longer wavelengths that can be seen by other birds and by us. They do this by chemicals in their feathers on their neck and head which are fluffed up so they can produce maximum emission of light. Dr. Kathryn E. Arnold, University of Scotland, has shown that birds coated with ultraviolet light blocking creams were not able to attract other parrots, but when the UV light was allowed to reach the feathers, they did attract parrots of the opposite sex.

It is obvious that the chemical allowing the UV to be absorbed and then emitted at a visible wavelength is the tool being used by these birds. They are designed to make contact with other parrots for sexual purposes, When Arnold tried same-sex attractions with the birds, there was no effect.

Rainbow There are only a few feathers that have the fluorescent abilities, and these are display feathers. No other purpose seems to be involved in the chemical. Chance explanations of this system seem strained at best, and we would suggest that, like many features seen in living things, this is a carefully designed property that simply aids reproduction.

--Reference: Science News, January 19, 2002, page 40.

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