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Hummer Tongue in Action!
Watch this slow-motion video clip!
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Why is a long tongue a good fit? Remember that flower nectar hidden deep within blooms is an important food source for hummers.
Photo: Martin Dollenkamp
Sticking Out a Tongue? A Great Adaptation!
Did you notice a skinny tongue that is longer than the hummingbird's beak? Sticking their tongues out all day is a way of life for hummingbirds. Their bills and tongues have evolved into fabulous feeding tools to help them reach deep into flowers for nectar.

Hummingbirds feed by dipping their tongues into nectar at up to 12 times a second. (Can your tongue do that?) Early researchers thought the tongue was like a soda straw that sucked up nectar. But they later discovered something different: Hummers lap up their sweet fuel.

To reach the nectar at the base of a long flower tube, a hummingbird extends its tongue past the bill to a distance at least as long as the bill. It laps nectar with the brushy forked tip of its tongue. The liquid is drawn up long grooves through capillary action. The bird then pulls the tongue back into its head. This squeezes the nectar into its throat. When it's not in use, the tongue wraps under the jaw, behind and over the head!

Scientists discovered that the lower half of hummingbird beaks can bend downward to capture insects.
Photo: Martin Dollenkamp
What About Insect Meals?
Flower nectar is only part of what a hummingbird relies on for fuel. Insects are a very important part of a hummingbird's diet.

But scientists were long puzzled. Hummingbird beaks seemed to be shaped for getting nectar from flowers, not for hunting! Using high-speed photography, scientists recently discovered how a hummingbird snags insects. Their videos showed that the lower half of an open beak will bend downward, even though it has no joint. This also pulles the mouth (gape) open wider. When a hummer catches an insect on the wing in this way, it's called hawking.


Hummer tongues may look just like fine thread, but microscopes have helped scientists discover just how complex they are!

 



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