Woodpecker’s Tongue

What is special about a Woodpecker’s tongue?

The Woodpecker grabs its prey out of holes and crevices in tree trunks. It has a sticky or barbed tongue. When it sticks its tongue in a hole, the tongue acts like glue and insects stick to it. A Woodpecker can eat 1,000 to 2,000 ants a day. It also eats beetle larvae (grubs).

Nubian Woodpecker

The bird with the longest tongue is the Northern Flicker Woodpecker (Colaptes auratus) in the Picidae family found in North America. Its tongue is 13 centimetres (5 inches) long. Most Woodpeckers have tongues that measure about 10 centimetres (4 inches) long.

However, the special thing about the Woodpecker’s tongue is where it puts its long tongue. It. curls its tongue and sticks it through an opening at the back of its neck, so that the tongue rests between its skull and skin.

The American Bird Conservatory in 2021 says that the Woodpecker’s surprisingly long tongue fits neatly into its small head. The hyoid bone supports a human’s tongue and a bird’s tongue. It fits under the jaw and helps with breathing, swallowing, and speaking. But a Woodpecker’s hyoid bone is different from the hyoid bone of humans and other birds. 

The centre of a Woodpecker’s hyoid bone is in the nostrils (nose holes) in its upper beak. It splits into a V-shape between its eyes and the two parts are around its skull. When the hyoid bone’s muscles contract, the tongue sticks out throught the beak. When the hyoid bone’s muscles relax, the tongue retracts into the mouth and into the hyoid bone. 

Northern Flicker Woodpecker
Woodpecker Tongue

Location of photograph: Kenya

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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