Why are toucan beaks so big?

This 50 centimetre (20 inch) bird has a hollow bill a third of it’s body length that is used to help it regulate it’s body temperature. Toucans are among the most iconic species of bird on the planet and as well as being beautiful, they are social and intelligent.

The bright colours displayed by a keel-billed toucan help keep it camouflaged in the tropical jungles of South America, and its croaky call sounds more like a frog than a bird. Keel-billed toucans live in groups of up to 12, and when roosting at night they are known to pile into one tree hole in one large group. The toucan’s tongue is shaped like a feather and helps grasp fruit, seeds and even small reptiles from twigs that wouldn’t support the entire bird’s weight.

Until recently, the toucan’s enormous beak was a mystery to researchers as it didn’t seem to serve a specific function. When watching toucans with thermal cameras, it was found that the birds lost heat through the bill during the hot day, but lost very little during cold snaps. Toucans can actively divert blood to the beak’s rich supply of blood vessels to lose heat rapidly, or restrict blood flow to the beak to retain as much heat as possible. This could be one of the most efficient heat regulation systems in the animal kingdom, and all along it was right under their nose.


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Image from www.flickr.com/photos/pellyutd