July 24, 2009

Colorful Toucan Bill Used To Cool Down Body

The toucan's large, colorful, iconic beak actually has a surprising purpose: it cools down the bird's body.

According to an Associated Press report, the bill of the Toco Toucan comprises one-third of its body measurement lengthwise and ornithologists have long pondered over the reason for the appendage.

Several scientists wondered if the beak was used to attract mates.

Perhaps it is used to peel and tear apart fruit. Maybe the beak is used as a weapon, or, a word of warning to other toucans.

A group of scientists headed by Glenn J. Tattersall of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, pondered the notion that the big beak might have a different use - cooling.

The researchers discovered that the beaks were full of blood vessels. They decided to photograph the birds using heat-sensing cameras.

They noted "the toucan's bill is capable of acting as a thermal radiator of body heat," Tattersall wrote. "By altering blood flow to the bill's surface, toucans can conserve body heat when it is cold, or cope with heat stress by increasing blood flow."

This does not necessarily mean that heat control is the only thing the bill is used for, Tattersall added. However, it does add to the budding uses.

The Toco Toucan's habitat is in parts of South America.


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