For almost 200 years, scientists thought they knew how hummingbirds ate. But as it turns out they were wrong.
It was believed that the birds fed on nectar from flowers using a capillary action; a passive process where liquid rises into an empty tube; in this case, the hummingbird’s tube-like tongue.
Using a high-speed camera and a clear glass feeder, Alejandro Rico-Guevera, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, has de-bunked that theory.
Rico-Guevera found that when a hummingbird’s tongue comes in contact with nectar, it separates into tiny tubes, which expand to trap the nectar. The bird then retracts its tongue, pulling the sugary fluid into its mouth.
Rico-Guevera says there’s a great deal more to learn about the minutiae of the process and he’s planning future experiments
But he says the research could have implications for our understanding of fluid mechanics and the development of such things as more efficient engines…or even the ultimate household mop.
Bottom line: Research released this week has debunked a 180-year-old theory of how hummingbirds gather nectar. Using high-speed cameras and some ingenuity, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut slowed down time to get a better look at how the tiny birds eat.