WOODPECKER

The birds that have mas­tered the tongue-twister

World of Animals - - Tongue-Fu Masters -

A crash-hel­met-like skull isn’t the only im­pres­sive anatom­i­cal ace up a woodpecker’s wing! They’re also equipped with a sticky licker that can ex­tend up to 12–15 cen­time­tres (five to six inches) in cer­tain species. Af­ter ham­mer­ing a hole into a tree, their se­cret weapon is de­ployed to sweep the in­te­rior for bugs.

De­pend­ing on their diet, woodpecker tongues vary in shape and size, hav­ing spe­cialised for cer­tain food types. For in­stance, some are barbed for har­poon­ing lar­vae, while the tongues of ‘sap­suck­ers’ are tipped by a brush-like fea­ture.

One thing that re­mains true for all wood­peck­ers is that their tongues are far too big to fit in their beaks alone. In­stead, the organ forks at the back of the throat and coils around the back of the brain. It’s an­chored to a bone-and-car­ti­lage struc­ture called the hy­oid horns. Con­tract­ing and re­lax­ing mus­cles around this wish­bone-shaped fea­ture en­ables a woodpecker to shoot out and re­tract its tongue in the blink of an eye.

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