Hummingbird Use Tongues as Micropumps to draw in Nectar

7The slim and lean hummingbird tongue has been misapprehend  for more than 180 years, according to a new study.

Scientists, since 1833, thought that hummingbird tongues used capillary action – an occurrence in which liquid flows through tapering areas, even against gravity to suck up floral nectar. Researchers got this fascinating, though wrong idea because the birds have long furrow on their tongues that resemble open cylinders, indicated Alejandro Rico-Guevara, head researcher of the new study and a research associate of functional morphology at the University of Connecticut.

But capillary action is slow, at least by hummingbird’s caliber. In the new study, researchers using high-speed videos, found that hummingbird tongues act as rubber micropumps, allowing the birds to suck in order to feed at rapid speeds, Rico-Guevara said.

Rico-Guevara said, “Most of us are familiar with simple pumps, like the drinking straw, for example. When sucking a drink through a straw, people distort their cheeks to create a vacuum in the straw and force up the liquid.”

“The hummingbird’s tongue works in almost the same way, but without a vacuum. After fastening toward a flower, the hummingbird flattens its outstretched tongue, and remains flattened until it contacts the nectar,” the researchers wrote in the study. “After getting in contact with the nectar’s surface, the tongue re-forms differently filling it with entire nectar.”

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