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Nine tissue lined boxes each containing three or four small pale blue or white eggs.

Credit: CSIRO

These beautiful eggs were laid mostly by herons and ibises. Credit: CSIRO

Can eggshells reveal ancient secrets? CSIRO looks after an egg-traordinary collection of eggshells that are used for research.

CSIRO has a collection of eggs from more than 1000 bird species. Since the 1960s, collecting eggs has been illegal. Prior to that, some people had their own private egg collections. Some have been donated to CSIRO for research.

CSIRO assesses donated eggs for characteristics such as which species of birds laid the eggs, when the eggs were collected, and the rarity of eggs of that species in the collections. Eggs from a single nest (known as a clutch) are stored together.

A team of curators looks after CSIRO’s egg collections and regularly checks in on them. Stored in special “archive” cardboard boxes filled with cotton wool, the egg clutches are kept safe in collection cabinets in a temperature-controlled room. CSIRO is now photographing egg clutches to allow more people to study the collection. Once this is done, researchers will be easily able to see the eggs digitally and AI might even be used to help answer research questions.

By looking at different egg colours and patterns, shell thicknesses and sometimes preserved DNA, scientists can investigate bird behaviours, bird evolution, and where birds may have been in the past. This is particularly useful to predict where birds might go under changing climates.

“Information from eggshells can tell us many things thousands of years after baby birds have hatched,” Andrea Wild from CSIRO says.

The egg collection is part of CSIRO’s Australian National Wildlife Collection, which contains more than 200 000 specimens for scientific research.

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