And Why Quail Eggs Made Me Think of It
It seems impossible to believe that there are still people, who believe the Earth is flat. However, these people are even organized in “Flat Earth Societies” and one of their ridiculous arguments is that on maps the entire Earth is shown in two dimensions on a flat piece of paper. However, how the surface of a spherical object can be ‘spread out’ and presented in two dimensions is, of course, something one learns in Geography lessons in connection with the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator. But there are numerous other methods that have been suggested (and are being used) to “flatten out” the surface of the spherical Earth. Some result in areal distortions while others present areas correctly, but contain other, namely angular distortions or are difficult to read and comprehend.
I became interested in these various methods when my colleagues at the Physiology Department in Oulu, who in their experiments used quail birds – lots of them in fact- regularly gave us fresh quail eggs that we then boiled and ate during our tea (or in Finland ‘coffee’) break. Quail eggs are about one fifth the size of a chicken egg, are of mottled appearance and contain a rich-coloured orangey yolk. But what I found most amazing by comparison with chicken eggs was the fact that not a single quail egg resembled another quail egg: they all looked different from each other. The two extremes were that some eggs were almost completely white-shelled, while others were almost completely covered in dark-brown patches with little white areas in between. Most of the eggs were speckled with totally randomly distributed dark and white blotches of different shapes and sizes. Patches like these, as in other ground-nesting birds with speckled eggs, indicate slightly thinner and thicker shell regions, with reddish-brown haemoglobin-derived protoporphyrins being the responsible pigments.
Thinking of the near spherical Earth and wanting to compare the extent of dark and white areas in different quail eggs, I wondered how we could possibly “flatten” a quail egg mathematically (or photographically) and then quantify the amounts of white and dark. Ideally one should be able to construct a system to readily identify the positions of some notable spots on the shell (similar to the longitude and latitude used in locating places on Earth). I discussed the problem with a biophysicist and initially he was quite optimistic and enthusiastic about the idea, but quickly gave up once he fathomed the complexity of the issue. Quail eggs are not spherical: they are egg-shaped and not all eggs are of the same dimension. Where would you place the North and the South Pole and how would you be able to scan the entire surface from pole to pole without sophisticated electronic equipment and computer programmes to eliminate inaccuracies and distortions?
This project of mine was never completed, but I still believe it had merit – and can be useful not just for quail eggs. There are many species of birds, not just quails, which produce eggs that do not resemble each other, but sport differences in surface markings. Are there certain regular or persistent patterns regarding the placements and sizes of these surface features? Can they be quantified and can the data then be related to the age, the nutrition and health status of the egg-layer? For that to be possible, a reliable method to identify and measure the blotches on the surface of the egg has to be developed. To be honest, I do not know if someone has by now developed such a technique to photographically or electronically flatten the surface of an egg, but I still think it was an interesting idea that came to me, helping myself to heaps of hard-boiled and tasty quail eggs during tea-breaks (sorry ‘coffee breaks’) at the “Oulun Yliopiston Fysiologian Laitos”.
© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.