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Reproduction

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Purple swamphens use a variety of mating systems, ranging from monogamous mating to communal mating. In communal mating, two breeding females share one nest and are fertilized by several males. In addition to the parents, non-breeding helpers of both sexes help raise the young. These groups generally contain 6 to 9 birds and the helpers are usually close kin to the breeders. Dominance hierarchies in these groups exist and there is generally a dominant female that breeds the most. Some populations of purple swamphens are monogamous. The full range of mating systems can be found in other populations, including smaller social breeding arrangements consisting of 1 or 2 females, 1 or several males, and helpers at the nest or not.

Courtship in New Zealand populations begins in late July and continues until early December. Males use an elaborate courtship display where they hold reeds in their bill, bow, and emit a chuckling vocalization. Preening is a common behavior, and it is often invited by one bird preening and bowing while another approaches. Courtship feeding occurs more often in communal settings than in pairs. Copulation could be initiated by a bird giving a humming call or by the male chasing her. Copulation within communal settings involves every type of pairing possible, including heterosexual, homosexual, and multiple participants. Group mating activity appears to have a function in synchronizing all the birds’ sexual cycles, thus allowing clutches to be laid and hatched simultaneously. Birds nesting in exclusive pairs copulate less than those in communal settings.

Mating System: monogamous ; polyandrous ; polygynous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous) ; cooperative breeder

Males become sexually mature when they are three years old. They mate with the two oldest and most dominant females in their group. Two to seven breeding males are possible in one communal breeding group. Young from previous seasons may be present to help with rearing the young. Both sexes of parents, but not sexually immature helpers, incubate the eggs. If a helper is old enough to breed but didn’t, it may help incubate near the end of the incubation period. Because of this system, yearling birds encounter their first hatchlings while under the supervision of more experienced birds. Non-breeders two or three years old have already had at least one year experience with young, and the parents themselves have had three or more years experience raising young. It appears raising chicks is partly a learned behavior, since non-breeders observe and learn how to provision the young. They build nests out of grass and tussock and sometimes both breeding females lay in the same nest. Neither female attempts to damage the other female’s eggs. The eggs hatch within four days of each other and the hatchlings are ready to leave the nest after about two days. They are brooded for a week and parents and helpers feed them until they are about ten weeks old. Breeding groups often attempt a second brood in a season, but these broods are not often successful.

Males build several nests. The ones built early in the season appear to be practice nests, as they are poorly constructed and lack a well-shaped bowl. They use stems of Typha and Juncus and tussocks of Carex and Cyperus. Nests are protected by a canopy of plants and are accessible by a ramp. After hatching, males then construct new nests specifically for brooding. Nests made of Typha are preferred for this purpose. Brood nests are often abandoned in favor of ones built nearer feeding sites.

Females usually lay their eggs around dawn. Females sharing a nest typically lay their eggs on the same days. Clutches are laid between mid August and mid February. Most breeders lay one or two clutches per season, but if a clutch is lost, extra clutches will be laid to make up for it. Each female will lay 3 to 6 eggs per clutch, with up to 12 eggs in a communal nest. Dominant females lay at least one egg more than submissive females when in communal settings. Incubation begins when half the clutch is laid, so individual eggs will end up hatching between 23 and 29 days after being laid. Hatching occurs over a two to three day interval. Only adults incubate, and females incubate more than males. In communal settings, the dominant female incubates the most. Interestingly, in group settings females will incubate most often during the day and allow males to concentrate on defense. Males are better at defense and incubate at night, when they aren’t needed for protection. In pair settings, this division of labor is difficult to implement and nest defense is not as effective.

Breeding interval: Purple swamphens have one breeding season per year and produce 1 or 2 clutches at that time.

Breeding season: Breeding varies with region, coinciding with spring.

Range eggs per season: 3 to 6.

Range time to hatching: 23 to 29 days.

Average time to independence: 2 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Purple swamphens generally have help when raising young. Monogamous pairs are often assisted by the young they’ve raised from earlier broods. Promiscuous mating groups all help each other. Also, both of the above groups may receive aid from non-breeders of either sex and different ages. When young hatch they are nidifugous and precocial. During the hatching period, one parent will sit on the nest and the hatched chick(s) while others bring food to feed the sitter or the young. Within three days new hatchlings are led away from the nest and fed elsewhere, sometimes on floating platforms of aquatic vegetation. Hatchlings begin to eat on their own after two days, but are still fed by adults until they are two months old. Hatchlings learn to stay close to cover and whenever a predator is spotted adults rush to protect the young. In pair territories, the young become independent earlier because their parents re-nest and hand over care to helpers.

Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents

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Dakota, A. 2009. "Porphyrio porphyrio" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Porphyrio_porphyrio.html
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Untitled

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It is thought that ancestral purple swamphens colonized Australasian islands, where these isolated populations evolved to become endemic swamphens and takahe: Porphyrio albus, Porphyrio hochstetteri, and Porphyrio mantelli.

Purple swamphens were kept as decorative birds by Romans and are one of the few bird species they did not eat.

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Dakota, A. 2009. "Porphyrio porphyrio" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Porphyrio_porphyrio.html
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Behavior

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Purple swamphens communicate visually and with vocalizations. Their calls are varied, including their shrieking warning and attack calls and their hummed courtship calls. They also use a flash of their white rumps to tell predators they’ve been spotted.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Dakota, A. 2009. "Porphyrio porphyrio" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Porphyrio_porphyrio.html
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Conservation Status

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Purple swamphens are not considered threatened from a global viewpoint. However, in Europe populations have declined as a result of habitat loss. They are considered rare and protected species throughout most of Europe. In Portugal they are considered endangered and they have been extirpated from parts of their former range. Hunting of purple swamphens is illegal, although hunters sometimes mistake them for legal gamebirds, like common coots (Fulica atra) and moorhens (Gallinula chloropus). Because they don’t move far by flying, they don't readily colonize available habitat that is isolated. In some areas more suitable wetland habitats are being created as a result of human expansion. Rice fields built along the Guadalquivir river encourage growth of Typha and Phragmites. New reservoirs result in build up of silt layers and the formation of new marshes. Reintroductions are also being attempted. European populations seem to be recovering.

US Migratory Bird Act: no special status

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: no special status

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Dakota, A. 2009. "Porphyrio porphyrio" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Porphyrio_porphyrio.html
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Benefits

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Purple swamphens eat crop and pasture plants, including potatoes, kumara, clover, and grass.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Dakota, A. 2009. "Porphyrio porphyrio" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Porphyrio_porphyrio.html
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Benefits

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Purple swamphens eat pest insects in crop areas. They also hunt and kill rats and stoats.

Because they are the closest relatives of endangered takahes (Porphyrio hochstetteri and Porphyrio mantelli), purple swamphens are valuable research animals for takahe conservation. One problem plaguing takahe is their low fertility rates. Gunn et al. (2008) performed experiments to find out what was the best method to retrieve sperm from purple swamphens. Perfecting artificial insemination in swamphens may make it easier to help takahe with their breeding needs. Purple swamphens may also be valuable as potential foster parents to takahe. Unlike purple swamphens, takahe do not possess good responses to terrestrial predators. This lack of response has caused serious declines in their populations since the introductions of mammalian predators. Bunin and Jamieson (1996) took one takahe chick and placed it with purple swamphens. This cross-fostered chicks grew up to display swamphen responses, including increased vigilance and tail flicking.

Positive Impacts: research and education; controls pest population

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Dakota, A. 2009. "Porphyrio porphyrio" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Porphyrio_porphyrio.html
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Associations

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Purple swamphens are important predators of marsh invertebrates and impact marsh communities through their predation and browsing.

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Trophic Strategy

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Purple swamphens eat vegetable matter and small animal prey. They eat the bulbs of Scirpus plants and browse on the shoots of marsh grasses and reeds. Animal prey is usually arthropods and other invertebrates, such as snails, although they occasionally take vertebrate prey, including fish, birds, and lizards. When they eat birds, they generally eat eggs, nestlings, and juveniles. They have been recorded preying on passerines and waterfowl, including teal, swans, and ducks. They also swallow grit, like sand or other sediment, to help their gizzards grind up their food. They sometimes lift food to their mouths with their feet, rather than eating it on the ground.

Animal Foods: birds; amphibians; reptiles; fish; eggs; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; mollusks

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Distribution

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Purple swamphens are native to the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australasia. They have been introduced to Florida. In Europe, purple swamphens live in the Atlantic and Mediterranean basins where there are suitable lagoons, rivers, and other wetlands. There are 13 recognized subspecies of purple swamphen.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); australian (Native ); oceanic islands (Native )

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Habitat

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Purple swamphens live in freshwater and brackish wetlands containing plenty of emergent vegetation. The vegetation often includes reedmace (Typha), sedges (Carex), and reeds (Phragmites). They prefer marshes and swamps with consistent water levels. They can also be found in pastures and disturbed areas. They spend most of their lives on the ground and are not interested in forests.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial ; freshwater

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams; coastal ; brackish water

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

Other Habitat Features: agricultural ; riparian ; estuarine

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Dakota, A. 2009. "Porphyrio porphyrio" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Porphyrio_porphyrio.html
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Life Expectancy

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There is little information on lifespan in purple swamphens in the literature. In New Zealand the oldest recorded pukeho was 9 years old. The related American species, Porphyrio martinica, has been recorded living up to 22 years in the wild.

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Morphology

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Purple swamphens are large members of the rail family (Rallidae). Males are larger than females, males average 1,050 g and females 850 g. They are chicken-sized birds with dark, shiny indigo or purple feathers and red bills and frontal shields. Although plumage color varies regionally, in general their backs and wings are dark green, brown or black with a green sheen and their breasts and heads are from pale blue to purple blue. Their tails are short, and they have bright white feathers on the undersides of their tails. Their legs are long, scaly, and orange-red.

Range mass: 850 to 1050 g.

Average length: 51 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

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Associations

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Purple swamphens are one of New Zealand’s most successful bird species because they have appropriate responses to terrestrial mammalian predators. New Zealand has no native terrestrial predators, so many native New Zealand birds are very vulnerable to predation by introduced mammalian predators. One of their responses to predators is to physically attack the predator. They also use wing flapping, calls, and flashing their white rump patches to alert conspecifics to the presence of a predator and disturb the predator itself.

Purple swamphens use a conspicuous rump patch to signal their awareness of a predator’s proximity. To call attention to the patch, they flick their tails up and down rapidly. Interestingly, it appears the signal is not meant to alarm other swamphens as much as it is meant to tell the predator it’s been spotted. If the prey communicates its awareness of the predator’s presence, the predator may be less likely to attempt a pursuit. Also, purple swamphens have been noted to signal their awareness less when they are closer to cover. This may be due to decreased vigilance or to the lower visibility of the signal when the swamphen is close to cover.

Sometimes purple swamphens form groups to mob stoats and rats. The shrieking calls they emit during these hunts are called “blue murder” by overhearing humans. When not attacking, they will flee.

Known Predators:

  • marsh harriers (Circus aeruginosus)
  • Australasian harriers (Circus approximans)
  • stoats (Mustela erminea)
  • rats (Rattus species)
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Status in Egypt

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Resident breeder.

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Western swamphen

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The western swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) is a swamphen in the rail family Rallidae, one of the six species of purple swamphen. From the French name talève sultane, it is also known as the sultana bird. This chicken-sized bird, with its large feet, bright plumage and red bill and frontal shield is easily recognisable in its native range. It used to be considered the nominate subspecies of the purple swamphen, but is now recognised as a separate species. The western swamphen is found in wetlands in Spain (where the largest population lives), Portugal, southeastern France, Italy (Sardinia and Sicily) and northwestern Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia).[1]

Behaviour

The species makes loud, quick, bleating and hooting calls which are hardly bird-like in tone. It is particularly noisy during the breeding season. Despite being clumsy in flight, it can fly long distances and is a good swimmer, especially for a bird without webbed feet.

Breeding

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A pair in Portugal
"
Egg of western swamphen - MHNT

Western swamphens are generally seasonal breeders, correlating with peak rainfall in many places, or summer in more temperate climes.[2] The purple swamphen breeds in warm reed beds. The pattern of social behaviour tends to be monogamy.[2]

Pairs nest in a large pad of interwoven reed flags, etc., on a mass of floating debris or amongst matted reeds slightly above water level in swamps, clumps of rushes in paddocks or long unkempt grass. Each bird can lay 3–6 speckled eggs, pale yellowish stone to reddish buff, blotched and spotted with reddish brown. The incubation period is 23–27 days, and is performed by both sexes. The precocious chicks are feathered with downy black feathers and able to leave the nest soon after hatching, but will often remain in the nest for a few days. Young chicks are fed by their parents (and group members) for between 10–14 days, after which they begin to feed themselves.[2]

Diet and feeding

The western swamphen prefers wet areas with high rainfall, swamps, lake edges and damp pastures. The birds often live in pairs and larger communities. It clambers through the reeds, eating the tender shoots and vegetable-like matter. They have been known to eat eggs, ducklings, small fish and invertebrates such as snails. They have even been known to attack large eels; however, there is no consensus amongst ornithologists if they actually eat eel. They will often use one foot to bring food to their mouth rather than eat it on the ground. Where they are not persecuted they can become tame and be readily seen in towns and cities.

Relationship with humans

Ancient times

Swamphens were often kept in captivity in ancient Greece and ancient Rome. Their behavior was described in some detail by Aristotle in History of Animals (4th century BC), and they were also mentioned by Aristophanes (5th century BC), Pliny the Elder (1st century BC), Aelian and Athenaeus (2nd to 3rd century AD).[1] Sources indicate that these birds typically were western swamphens (originating from the Balearic Islands, among others) or grey-headed swamphens (originating from Turkey), and the two were already distinguished by Pliny the Elder who considered the former superior.[1] They typically were not kept for food, but instead were decorative birds in villas and temples.[1] If raised in captivity swamphens tend to become quite tame. There are many depictions of the species on Roman mosaics and frescos, typically in a natural or domestic environment, including the famous garden fresco from Pompeii. In early Christianity it was also frequently depicted, but here symbolising the richness of life and often perched in the tree of life.[1]

Status and conservation

Today the western swamphen is locally common, with the largest population in Spain. It was formerly listed as "Rare" by the European Union, but has been delisted to "Localised".[1]

The species declined drastically in the first half of the 20th century due to habitat loss and hunting. It was relatively widespread until 1900, but by the 1960s it was seriously threatened and its range in the Iberian Peninsula was limited to a few locations in the Guadalquivir basin.[3] As a result of reintroduction schemes and protection of both the species and its habitat, the western swamphen has since recovered. By the 1990s it was locally common,[4] and by 2000 its range in the Iberian Peninsula was similar to its range in 1900.[3] The center is in Spain where the population increased from 600–900 breeding pairs in 1992 to 3500–4500 breeding pairs in 1999. From Spain it has continued its expansion into southeastern France where small numbers now breed.[3] It remains rare and local in Portugal where there were 49–67 breeding pairs in 2002, but this population is also recovering.[5] It was extirpated from Sicily in 1957,[6] effectively restricting its Italian range to Sardinia where the population was 450–600 breeding pairs in 1999.[7] Beginning in 2000, it was reintroduced to Sicily.[6] A small "purple swamphen" population in central Italy is the result of grey-headed swamphens that escaped from a zoo.[1]

Little is known about the status of the western swamphen in Africa, but northeastern Algeria is considered one of its strongholds in this region.[8]

When protected, western swamphens are able to thrive in human-managed habitats,[3] and in some places they live in paddy fields, resulting in conflicts with farmers as they can be destructive to the rice.[4]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Lopes, R.J.; J.A. Gomez; A. Andreotti; M. Andreoni (2016). "Purple Swamphen or Gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio) and Humans". Society & Animals. 24 (6). doi:10.1163/15685306-12341432.
  2. ^ a b c Taylor, P.B. (1996): Family Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules and Coots). In: del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew & Sargatal, Jordi (eds.) : Handbook of Birds of the World Vol. 3 (Hoatzin to Auks): 197, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-20-2
  3. ^ a b c d Sánchez-Lafuente, A.M.; F. Valera; A. Godino; F. Muela (2001). "Natural and human-mediated factors in the recovery and subsequent expansion of the Purple swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio L. (Rallidae) in the Iberian Peninsula". Biodiversity & Conservation. 10 (6): 851–867.
  4. ^ a b Moreno-Opo, R.; J. Piqué (2018). "Reconciling the conservation of the purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) and its damage in Mediterranean rice fields through sustainable non-lethal techniques". PeerJ. 2018 (6): e4518. doi:10.7717/peerj.4518. PMC 5922229.
  5. ^ Pacheco, Carlos; Peter K. McGregor (2004). "Conservation of the purple gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio L.) in Portugal: causes of decline, recovery and expansion". Biological Conservation. 119 (1): 15–120. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2003.11.001.
  6. ^ a b Andreotti, A.; R. Ientile (2004). "La reintroduzione del Pollo sultano (Porphyrio porphyrio) in Sicilia (Aves Rallidae)". Il Naturalista Siciliano. IV (XXVIII): 599–603.
  7. ^ Grussu, G. (1999). "Status and breeding ecology of the Purple Swamp-hen, Poprhyrio porphyrio, in Italy". British Birds. 92: 183–192.
  8. ^ Samraoui, F.; R. Nedjah; A.H. Alfarhan; B. Samraoui (2015). "An overview of the Rallidae of Algeria with particular reference to the breeding ecology of the Purple Swamp-Hen Porphyrio porphyrio". Wetlands Ecol Manage. 23: 505–517. doi:10.1007/s11273-014-9404-0.
  • Leo, Roger (2006). 'Shorebirds in Art: Looking at history through the purple swamphen'. Sanctuary: The Journal of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, Summer 2006, 45 (4):18-19
  • Taylor, Barry and Van Perlo, Ber Rails (a volume in the Helm Identification Guides series) ISBN 0-300-07758-0

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Western swamphen: Brief Summary

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The western swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) is a swamphen in the rail family Rallidae, one of the six species of purple swamphen. From the French name talève sultane, it is also known as the sultana bird. This chicken-sized bird, with its large feet, bright plumage and red bill and frontal shield is easily recognisable in its native range. It used to be considered the nominate subspecies of the purple swamphen, but is now recognised as a separate species. The western swamphen is found in wetlands in Spain (where the largest population lives), Portugal, southeastern France, Italy (Sardinia and Sicily) and northwestern Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia).

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