Friday mystery object #72 answer

On Friday I gave you this rather snug looking object to identify, asking where does it come from and what is it made of?

Suggestions ranged from Beaver fur from North America to Yak fur from Bhutan. However, a number of you managed to get it right – it is in fact a Kiwi (Apteryx sp. Shaw, 1813) feather cloak from New Zealand.

The fact that the cloak is made of Kiwi feathers becomes more obvious when we see a close-up:

Kiwis are flightless in the superorder Palaeognathes – the same group as the Ostriches, Emus and Rheas. These odd creatures come from a long line of flightless birds, so their feathers lack the structure that would normally be expected in a bird with recent ancestors capable of flight. The main feather shaft (or rachis) is soft and flexible, so there is no way it could bear the loads associated with flight. The barbs on the shaft are fluffy and they don’t ‘zip’ together to make a smooth surface like the barbs of a flying bird. In fact the Kiwi’s feathers are more like mammalian hairs when it comes to their functional properties.

Kiwi cloaks are a Māori garment made from a woven muka (flax fibre) base with the feathers woven in. They may also contain feathers from Kakapos and other birds.  The generic name for a Māori feather cloak is Kahu huruhuruand one composed of Kiwi feathers like this is (perhaps unsurprisingly) called a Kahu kiwi. Such cloaks are prestigious, so it is unsurprising that British royalty wear them when undertaking public appearances in New Zealand.

Finally, congratulations go to Nick T, Gerry, Cromercrox, Jamie Revell, Rupert Shepherd and David Craven – all of whom managed to work out what this cosy looking object is made of and where it originated.


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