New footage shows how a hummingbird’s tongue helps it drink

May 4th, 2011 - 3:03 pm ICT by ANI  

London, May 4 (ANI): Spectacular new close-up footage of hummingbirds overturn nearly two centuries of conventional wisdom on how they drink.

Researchers previously thought tube-like channels in their tongues sucked up fluid bycapillary action.

But the new analysis shows that their tongues actually trap nectar by curling around it.

Ornithologists Alejandro Rico-Guevara and Margaret Rubega of the University of Connecticut built transparent flowers to allow them to film high-speed, magnified footage of hummingbird tongues flicking into nectar.

As the video shows, instead of simply sucking up the liquid, the tiny birds’ tongues have tubes, which open down their sides when hitting nectar.

When the hummingbird retracts its tongue, the tubes snap shut and carry the nectar back into the beak.

“The first time I saw these videos, they blew my mind,” the Daily Mail quoted Rico-Guevara as telling Wired.com

“I had studied the tongue’s structure in detail, but had no idea it could do something like this. We had to create a new model to explain it,” he added.

Hummingbirds depend on sugar-rich nectar for fuel. With wings that flap up to 90 times a minute and heart rates that exceed 1,200 beats per minute, the birds must consume many times their own body weight of the high calorie fluid every day.

The study was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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