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Hummingbirds Extracting Nectar

6-10-14 hummingbird tongue 045For years scientists assumed that hummingbirds passively extracted nectar from flowers with their tongue through capillary action, but it turns out that this is not the case. A hummingbird’s forked tongue (which is twice as long as its beak) is lined with hair-like extensions or fringes called lamellae. When it is inserted into a flower and immersed in fluid, the tongue separates and the lamellae extend outwards so that open grooves (between the lamellae) lay flat. As the hummingbird pulls its tongue into its mouth, the forked tips come together and the lamellae roll inward, trapping the nectar within the tongue until it is swallowed by the hummingbird. No output of energy is necessary on the part of the bird – this process is automatic, takes all of 1/20th of a second, and occurs thousands of times a day. (Thanks to Ginny Barlow for Ruby-throated Hummingbird photo op.)

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4 responses

  1. Fascinating as always, Mary!

    June 10, 2014 at 12:39 pm

  2. Bjpard@aol.com

    It baffles the mind to know anyone who knows the process !!

    June 10, 2014 at 3:45 pm

  3. Marilyn

    Evolution is awesome!

    June 10, 2014 at 5:27 pm

  4. Thanks for another interesting fact – I love learning with you. Super capture, nice feather detail.

    June 10, 2014 at 5:42 pm

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