A Toucan’s Beak is like an A/C Unit

Researchers have long wondered why a toucan’s beak is so massive. The riddle has recently been solved.

It’s Hot Out Today

The toucan probably uses its large beak to adjust its body temperature. Thermal imaging cameras have shown that the bird reduces its body temperature by directing heat into its beak.

Previous Theories

Charles Darwin thought that the toucan’s beak made it stand out when looking for mating partners. Later, people thought that the beak had a special role in opening fruit. It was also believed that it was used to defend nests or to scare off enemies because of its size.

Toco Toucan Toco Toucan - Photo: Oleksiy Mark/Shutterstock

The Plot Thickens

Scientists at Brock University in Canada and Estadual Paulista University in Brazil finally revealed the beak’s secret. They carried out tests in environmental temperatures between 50 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (10 and 35 degrees Celsius).

When the temperature was high, the thermal imaging camera clearly showed the beak in light red (so it was very warm). The bird was directing the heat to its beak. When it was colder, the heat remained in the toucan’s body and the camera showed the beak as blue.

Toucan Toucan - Illustration: Silke/tierchenwelt.de

How Does This Beak A/C Work?

Because birds don’t sweat, they need to regulate their body temperatures in other ways. The toucan uses its network of blood vessels - which also extends into its beak. The blood is cooled across the large surface area of the beak, and the body heat disperses into the air. The more the bird can circulate its blood through its beak, the more heat it can let go of. This could be up to 100 % or just 5 %. Elephants also use this trick with their ears.