According to the findings of a recent research project, it seems that the physiology of the hummingbird’s tongue and its feeding patterns are much more complex than it was initially thought.
The tongue of the hummingbird is rather extraordinary, even in the animal world, as the bony part is quite large and it ends in a folded groove. Because of its particular shape and the fact that it has a hollow interior, scientists believed that the basis of the bird’s feeding process was capitalization, a natural phenomenon that allows liquids from two containers to communicate due to the difference in pressure.
However, researcher Dr. Alejandro Rico-Guevara of the University of Connecticut and his team of researchers have revealed that the hummingbird actually posses a much more complex mechanism that enables it to feed on a sizable amount of nectar from a flower in under a second, all while flapping its wings continuously, so as to remain in motion at all times and be able to escape any predator that might approach it.
Dr. Rico-Guevara has used specialized artificial flowers for his experiment that were transparent. He filled them with nectar, so that the hummingbirds would come to feed on it and he filmed the entire process. Then he analyzed the complex mechanism that the birds utilized by watching the footage frame by frame.
He used state of the art technology so as to be able to have high quality footage and images that would permit him to witness the feeding technique step by step. His research revealed that the hummingbirds are actually able to use their tongues as small pumps, that permit them to feed exponentially faster than they could have done by relying on capitalization.
Because the hummingbirds are able to compress and expand the gouge of their tongues, they are actually creating a pumping motion. When the bird inserts its tongue into the nectar compartment of the flower, the tongue is expanded and it immediately fills up with nectar. The, when the bird begins to compress its tongue, the nectar travels all the way up to the grooves of the tongue, essentially being pumped in.
Dr. Rico-Guevara’s research project has been published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B and it has proven that our understanding of nature can evolve alongside the development of technology, as long as there are scientists who can employ the right technology for studying the right phenomenon.
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