Ruby-throated HummingbirdArchilochus colubrisCredit: Hays Cummins, Miami University
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Most animals drink through suction, but hummingbirds drink through capillary action. A hummingbird's tongue is very long to reach the base of the corolla. The quantity of nectar ingested is directly proportional to the length of the tongue. The number of licks can vary from 3 to 13 per second.
The tongue of the hummingbird is partly cartilaginous; it separates into two curled branches, creating two troughs. In the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), each trough can hold a little more than 0.4 microlitre. Research has shown that the structure of the troughs plays a minor role when large quantities of nectar are available, but that this structure is of vital importance when the volume of nectar is low.
Credit: The world of hummingbird, Robert Burton, Firefly Book, 2001