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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 May 28;110(22):8852-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1222726110. Epub 2013 May 6.

Specialized bat tongue is a hemodynamic nectar mop.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA.


Nectarivorous birds and bats have evolved highly specialized tongues to gather nectar from flowers. Here, we show that a nectar-feeding bat, Glossophaga soricina, uses dynamic erectile papillae to collect nectar. In G. soricina, the tip of the tongue is covered with long filamentous papillae and resembles a brush or mop. During nectar feeding, blood vessels within the tongue tip become engorged with blood and the papillae become erect. Tumescence and papilla erection persist throughout tongue retraction, and nectar, trapped between the rows of erect papillae, is carried into the mouth. The tongue tip does not increase in overall volume as it elongates, suggesting that muscle contraction against the tongue's fixed volume (i.e., a muscular hydrostat) is primarily responsible for tip elongation, whereas papilla erection is a hydraulic process driven by blood flow. The hydraulic system is embedded within the muscular hydrostat, and, thus, intrinsic muscle contraction may simultaneously increase the length of the tongue and displace blood into the tip. The tongue of G. soricina, together with the tongues of nectar-feeding bees and hummingbirds, which also have dynamic surfaces, could serve as valuable models for developing miniature surgical robots that are both protrusible and have highly dynamic surface configurations.


biomechanics; feeding kinematics; fluid dynamics; lingual papillae; soft robots

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