High-Speed Video Reveals Surprising Way Hummingbirds Drink (Video)

hummingbird at feeder photo

Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch

There's a lot that is unusual about lightening-fast hummingbirds, and now scientists realize that one of those things is how they drink. New high-speed video footage shows in detail the strange way a hummingbird's tongue traps nectar by curling around it. The discovery could mean inspiration in biomimicry for everything from self-assembling electronics to robots.

Wired notes
that for the last two centuries, researchers believed that hummingbirds drink nectar through capillary action, with the liquid being sucked up into the tongue. But the video above shows that is entirely not the case.

Using high-speed, high-magnification video of hummingbirds feeding, they discovered that the tongue's tubes open when encountering nectar and close as the bird pulls its tongue back. The only mystery still to solve is how the birds manage to swallow the nectar at that speed.

The reason researchers are set on solving the mystery, beyond simply really wanting to know, is that reconstructing the way hummingbirds drink could help scientists and engineers improve liquid-absorbing robots, fluid-power microchips, and other possibilities.

Once again, nature amazes, and inspires.

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