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Research Update – a Surprising Use for the Toucan’s Huge Bill

Toucan bills are perhaps the best known of all bird appendages. Comprising 40% or more of the toucan’s total surface area, these long, colorful structures were thought to serve primarily as fruit gathering tools and, perhaps, to attract mates. However, research involving the toco toucan (Ramphastos toco), which sports the largest bill of all, has yielded some surprising new information.

Controlling Body Temperature

According to an article published in the journal Science (July, 2009), the toucan’s generously proportioned bill helps to keep its owner cool during hot weather. As temperatures rise, blood flows to a network of vessels positioned between the bill’s bony inner core and its hard outer covering (the rampotheca), where it sheds heat before circulating back into the bird’s body. Toucans are even able to precisely control the rate of blood flow to the bill.

A number of structures in other animals, i.e. elephants’ ears and crocodilian tongues, serve a similar function, although they appear less effective than toucan bills at shedding heat. It is theorized that the huge spikes on the backs of certain dinosaurs were the animal world’s first heat-dumping structures.

Toucans as Pets

Toucans make affection and interesting pets for those with the room to properly accommodate them (please see articles below).

Although their bills appear unwieldy, several toucans that I have kept were very adept at catching grapes tossed at high speed, and they rarely missed when aiming at the anoles (small lizards) that had arrived in their exhibit along with imported plants and trees.

Further Reading

Please check out my articles Introducing the Collared Aracari and Popular Zoo and Pet Birds: Toucans for information on keeping toucans in captivity.


Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Muchness

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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