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J Exp Zool A Ecol Genet Physiol. 2009 Aug 1;311(7):465-74. doi: 10.1002/jez.542.

Ballistic food transport in toucans.

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UMR7179, Department "Ecologie et Gestion de la Biodiversité", Museum of Natural History, Paris, France.


The basic mechanism of food transport in tetrapods is lingual-based. Neognathous birds use this mechanism for exploiting a large diversity of food resources, whereas paleognathous birds use cranioinertial mechanism with or without tongue involvement. Food transport in two neognathous species of toucans (Ramphastos toco and R. vitellinus) is defined as ballistic transport mechanism. Only one transport cycle is used for moving the food from the tip of the beak to the pharynx. The food is projected between jaws with similar initial velocity in both species. At the time of release, the angle between trajectory of food position and horizontal is higher in R. vitellinus with a shorter beak than in R. toco. The tongue never makes contact with the food nor is it used to expand the buccal cavity. Tongue movement is associated with throat expansion, permitting the food to reach the entrance of the esophagus at the end of the ballistic trajectory. Selection of large food items in the diet may explain the evolutionary trend of using ballistic transport in the feeding behavior of toucans, which plays a key role in ecology of tropical forest.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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