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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

New footage of a hummingbird: how they drink


Thirsty: With wings flapping 90 times a minute and heart rates over 1,200 bpm, hummingbirds need many times their own body weight in nectar every day

Spectacular new close-up footage of hummingbirds has shaken established wisdom about how the tiny creatures drink - and could even help engineers create a more efficient mop.

Ornithologists Alejandro Rico-Guevara and Margaret Rubega of the University of Connecticut built transparent flowers to allow them to film high-speed, magnified footage of hummingbird tongues flicking into nectar.

As the video shows, instead of simply sucking up the liquid, the tiny birds' tongues have tubes which open down their sides when hitting nectar. When the hummingbird retracts its tongue, the tubes snap shut and carry the nectar back into the beak.

New mystery: If researchers can see how hummingbird tongues move into the beak, they might be able to understand how fluid can be extracted so quickly

Researchers had believed that hummingbirds' high-speed drinking was down to capillary action - the same natural law that causes liquid to rise up the sides of a narrow tube.

The shape of the birds' tongues supported the idea, while its efficiency made intuitive sense. But there was one glaring flaw in the model.

The laws of physics dictate that hummingbirds should prefer nectar with a sugar concentration of about 20 to 40 per cent - any more sugary and the solutions would be too thick to rise quickly. But the birds often sup fluids with double that level of sugar.

If researchers can see exactly how hummingbird tongues move into the beak, they might be able to understand how the fluid can be extracted so quickly.

The lessons learned from the hummingbird's tongue could help with the design of self-assembling electronics, fluid power microchips and even liquid sipping robots.

But the discovery could yet have more mundane applications.

source: dailymail


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