The uropygial glands of hoopoe birds contain a symbiotic bacteria that secrete antiseptics targeted at feather‑eating bacteria.

Bacteria that consume the keratin of bird feathers are obvious enemies of birds. Without their plumage, they could not fly and would not be able to regulate their internal temperatures. The hoopoe bird prevents growth of these keratin-consuming bacteria by cultivating populations of symbiotic bacteria within special glands accessed during preening. These bacterial allies secrete antiseptics called bacteriocins that can kill the keratin-consuming bacteria. However, it appears that the birds apply enough of the antiseptic to slow the pace of keratin degradation rather than totally wiping out the bacterial parasites perhaps in an effort to ward off an aquired resistance.

Last Updated August 23, 2016