Long Misunderstood, Hummingbird Tongue Works Like Micropump By Laura Geggel 19 August 2015

The slender hummingbird tongue has been misunderstood for more than 180 years, a new study finds.

Since 1833, scientists thought that hummingbird tongues used capillary action — a phenomenon in which liquid flows through narrow areas, even working against gravity — to slurp up floral nectar. Researchers got this intriguing (but wrong) idea because the birds have long groves on their tongues that look like open cylinders, said Alejandro Rico-Guevara, lead researcher of the new study and a research associate of functional morphology at the University of Connecticut.

But capillary action is slow, at least by hummingbird standards. Using high-speed videos, researchers in the new study determined that hummingbird tongues act as elastic micropumps, allowing the birds to feed at rapid speeds, Rico-Guevara said. [See Photos of Hummingbirds Sticking Out Their Tongues]