Brief Communication

Feeding mechanisms: Hummingbird jaw bends to aid insect capture

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Abstract

The upper jaws of birds, unlike those in many tetrapods, move relative to the skull and are often flexible along their length, whereas the lower jaw (mandible) is usually a rigid structure formed by the fusion of several bones, flexing only where it meets the skull. Here we describe a previously unnoticed mandibular bending movement in hummingbirds, in which the distal half of the mandible is actively flexed downwards and the gape widens to catch flying insects. The hummingbird is thought to have developed a long narrow bill as it specialized in feeding on floral nectar, but the bird's need to supplement its diet with insects must have contributed to the surprising flexibility of its jaw.

This tiny bird has a neat trick to trap flies in mid-air with its long nectar-seeking beak.

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Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06269, USA

    • Gregor M. Yanega
    •  & Margaret A. Rubega

Authors

  1. Search for Gregor M. Yanega in:

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gregor M. Yanega.

Supplementary information

Videos

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Movie

    Video sequence of hummingbird flying with open jaws

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