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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

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