Further to my recent post on turacine, a pigment extracted only from the feathers of 17 species of turaco, a South African bird, I though I’d check to see if they had any turacos (or their remains) in the treasure trove that is UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology. They did! Just two feather’s from Hartlaub’s Turaco (Taurcao hartlaubi; catalogue number NON768). There is also a disarticulated skeleton of Buffon’s Turaco (Tauraco Corythaix buffonii; catalogue number 1155). My interest in turacine began when I had read that it was postulated as a potential artists’ pigment by T. W. Salter, in his update of George Field’s “Chromatography”, published in 1869. You can read more about the history of this pigment in my previous post on this blog Turacine: the most unlikely of pigments never to be used by artists
I had very much hoped that the Grant’s feathers may have been donated to the museum by Professor Claude Rimington, once the world’s leading researcher on porphyrins, including turacine, and former professor at what is now UCL’s Medical School. However, the donor is unknown for cat. no. NON768. The feathers were probably given by London Zoo; the reasoning behind this is that some flamingo feathers, with a label in the same handwriting, are clearly labelled as being donated by the Zoological Society of London.
Turacine is a rare pigment and only secreted by turacos in their red plumage. Hartlaub’s Turaco has predominantly blue plumage, with purplish-red pinion feathers on the wings, and luckily it is two of the latter that are in the collection. They were rather old and a bit battered, but nevertheless, they were the real thing which means that I have now actually seen turacin, that rarest of pigments in, as it were, the flesh!
I am very grateful to Jack Ashby, Manager of the Grant Museum, for letting me look at the feathers. I also somehow managed to accidentally adopt a pangolin during my visit.
UCL Grant Museum of Zoology: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology
Hartlaub’s Turaco; Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartlaub’s_turaco
©Ruth Siddall 2015