I think this article is really interesting, and it has some awesome video footage at the end. Scientists have shown that bats are capable of rapidly engorging hair-like structures on their tongues with blood. This ability has been likened to a mop and allows the bats maximum efficiency for gathering nectar. Bees and hummingbirds also have tongue-morphing abilities. This physiology is important because hovering over flowers takes a substantial amount of energy. The animals need to be able to extract the maximum amount of nectar in the shortest possible time. The bats are capable of engorging their tongues in an eighth of a second! Scientists were aware of the hair-like structures on bat tongues, but this study was the first to show that they can be erected. Researchers hope that medical technology can be enhanced by applying this “tongue science” to miniature surgical robots, perhaps allowing the robots to be more flexible or change configurations.
I definitely recommend watching the short video at the end. You can really see the difference the tongue hairs make on nectar collection. If you are more of a bird person, here is a fantastic website: How the Hummingbird’s Tongue Really Works. Hummingbirds have hair-like structures on their tongues as well, but their tongues are also forked, allowing them to trap nectar inside their tongues. The website has pictures and several videos of a hummingbird’s tongue in action. Speaking of birdies, my avian field job starts on Monday! This probably means my posts will be more hit or miss, but I’m still going to try to write new ones semi-regularly.