woodpecker tongue

The Woodpecker Tongue is a Crazy Weird Instrument

By Anupum Pant

Almost everyone who has learned it in school or has experienced a sleepless night listening to a woodpecker make that tat-tat noise, knows that their straight and strong beaks, are indeed able to make heads turn. These chisel-like tools help them to pierce into dead wood where they may find their food – insects and larvae. They also use these bores as nesting cavities. But that isn’t the only fascinating thing about a woodpecker.

Oftentimes, a woodpecker has to use its secret tool to deal with annoying little bugs that evade the reach of its beak by moving further into a bore – The crazy woodpecker tongue.

Annoying bugs

Present just behind a thick layer of wood are these wood-boring beetles that a woodpecker would love to eat. While hunting for these kind of grubs the strange potential of the woodpecker’s tongue can be noticed. These beetles drill several inches deep into the bore. The woodpecker’s beak helps the bird breach into their homes, but it is only the woodpecker’s tongue that is able to catch and retrieve bugs from deep inside the bores.

Woodpecker’s tongue

A woodpecker’s tongue can reach up to 3 times the length of its beak. It is thin like a spear, and on it are tiny hooks facing up and backwards. The harpoon like tongue can move at incredible speeds and serves two functions – listening and striking. Yes, the tongue can actually listen and track insects inside the bore.

The hooks on its tongue are covered in sticky saliva. This combination of hooks and saliva does not leave a chance for the insects to wriggle off once they are pierced. When the woodpecker’s bill opens up the beetle home, it extends its tongue and probes around to track them. If it locates grubs, the woodpecker skewers the prey with its tongue, the tip of which is hard and sharp. After the tip penetrates the larvae body, the tiny rear-facing hooks hold them in place as the woodpecker retracts its tongue.

Okay! the last mindblow

Sometimes the woodpecker tongue is so long that it forks in the throat, goes below the jaw, then behind the head and finally over the top of its brain, where it rejoins and goes into the right nostril.
Have a nice look at the picture below till I rest my brain for tomorrow’s article.

woodpecker tongue
Woodpecker tongue. Source: Hilton Pond
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