Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Undiscovered Egg

(Originally posted for Easter 2012) On Easter morning, my baby escaped from his sleeping mother’s grasp, toddled into the hallway and found a basket full of “grass” and a few starter eggs. He then proceeded to instinctively embark on an egg hunt throughout the house. He was a noisy predator and was discovered quickly but we permitted the search to continue.

Eggs in the wild are not meant to be discovered. They are buried, camouflaged or tucked away. They are laid singularly with maximum parental protection or in multitudes with the hope that a percentage will survive. The effort that reptiles, birds, insects, amphibians (and yes the mammalian Platypus) go through to protect their potential offspring is perhaps what makes it so interesting to seek out and discover eggs.

When an egg is found, there are often plenty of clues that suggest who might emerge at the conclusion of incubation (if at all). The cotton candy-colored, spherical eggs in the top left corner are less than ¼ inch in diameter and have been deposited on a blade of cattail in a freshwater marsh. Tiny Florida Apple Snails (Pomacea paludosa) will hatch and descend to the water just several inches below.

Many birds camouflage their eggs with unique colors and markings. As the egg descends and rotates through the oviduct, fixed pigment glands color the shell and create unique works of art on the eggs of the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) (top right corner).

The five glossy white PurpleMartin (Progne subis) eggs in the bottom left corner would be conspicuous in any hanging bird nest, but in the cavity of a tree or in a bird house, color serves little purpose.

Not every nest is successful. The turtle eggs in the bottom right corner were dug up and eaten. The colorless, ping pong-sized eggs were discovered, most likely by an animal with a good sniffer.

Brown Anoles (Anolis sagrei) will lay one to two eggs in soft soil or under leaf litter. Their eggs range from white to speckled brown.

I can still recall the thrill my sister experienced when she found an Easter egg at my grandmother’s when we were kids. My parents were amused. It was the day before Easter and this well hidden, well camouflaged egg had remained undiscovered for nearly a year. 

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