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Feathers can be divided into several categories. Contour feathers are found on the wings and backs of birds, while down feathers are usually placed underneath the contour feathers to provide insulation for the bird. A primary feature present in all feathers is the large stem (termed the "rachis" or "quill") centrally located that provides a "backbone" around which the feather is constructed. Extending from both sides of the quill is a linear cluster of barbs containing a majority of the feather's pigment. Together, the barbs and the quill constitute the body or vane of the feather. Branching at a 40-degree angle on each barb is a network of barbules with interlocking hooklets that provide both stiffness and flexibility to the feather. These hooklets allow a split vane to be resealed making it whole again.

Feather at 10x Magnification

Feather at 60x Magnification

Feather at 200x Magnification

These images were captured using the oblique illuminator built into the microscope head with the assistance of a Dolan-Jenner Model 180 fiber optics illuminator using a 150 watt projection lamp. The light pipes of the illuminator were placed at approximately a 45-degree angle with respect to the optical axis of the microscope and were positioned to evenly illuminate the specimen. A 2-inch square section of black paper was placed over the diffusion filter on the stage of the microscope to avoid any glare from transmitted illumination.


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