Hummingbird tongues are way weirder than we thought

Aug 25, 2015

© sannesu

By Rachel Feltman

Thanks to a new study, we finally know how hummingbird tongues work.

Until now, the general consensus was that hummingbirds used capillary action to sip tiny bursts of nectar. Capillary action is a force you can observe by putting a long, thin tube in a glass of water: The water will travel up through the narrow space without any suction. Scientists thought that the long, narrow grooves they saw on hummingbird tongues accomplished the same feat.


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9 comments on “Hummingbird tongues are way weirder than we thought

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hummingbird#Specialized_characteristics_and_metabolism

    With the exception of insects, hummingbirds while in flight have the highest metabolism of all animals, a necessity to support the rapid beating of their wings during hovering and fast forward flight.[3][19] Their heart rate can reach as high as 1,260 beats per minute, a rate once measured in a blue-throated hummingbird,[20] with a breathing rate of 250 breaths per minute, even at rest.[21] During flight, oxygen consumption per gram of muscle tissue in a hummingbird is about 10 times higher than that seen for elite human athletes.

    Because of their small size, their physical performance is able to put athletes to shame!



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  • The species are very diverse…

    …and exquisite, like Faberge Eggs.

    torpor

    I love reading about human and bird encounters –

    e.g., a concerned person, not knowing about torpor, gently held a seemingly sick hummer, only to see it “wake up” and take off! It’s funny how they hang upside down, almost bat like, while in this state.



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  • Hummingbird tongues are way weirder than we thought

    The high speed pumping mechanism of the tongue is a fascinating feature of evolution, but if we think about it, the high rate of energy consumption by a bird hovering at the mouth of a flower while sipping nectar, would encourage selection of those birds which drink quickly and efficiently, so as to gain an energy drink, with the minimum waste of time and energy expended in the process.



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  • Used to seeing butterflies and moths fluttering rather than flying, I will never forget seeing the Humming-bird Hawk-moth for the first time in Minorca. It flew past me like a jet, straight at the apartments, turning skywards at the last second, climbing the face and disappearing into the roof space. A moth that looked more like it knew where it was going.



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  • Olgun
    Aug 28, 2015 at 7:16 am

    It flew past me like a jet, straight at the apartments, turning skywards at the last second, climbing the face and disappearing into the roof space.

    Because of the small size and light weight of their moving parts, insects and humming birds can move a lot faster than creatures with large heavy body parts.
    That is one of the engineering constraints of flight, which limit birds using powered flight, to be below certain sizes. Large wings cannot flap at these rates.



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  • Stafford Gordon
    Aug 28, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    In Tobago I watched a Hummingbird feeding from an Hibiscus flower, and at intervals it flew backwards!

    While plant breeders have produced a variety of colours for human observers, bird pollinated flowers are usually red!



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  • The one and only time I’ve seen a Hummingbird was In Tobago; I watched it feeding from the bell of an Hibiscus flower, and at intervals the little beauty flew backwards to extract its beak from one flower and move to another.

    And I was amazed at just how diminutive the creature was, and how loud its wing beats were.

    A wonderful example of nature’s ability to produce an efficient power to weight ratio.



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