Alejandro Rico, the Colombian who decodes the mysteries of hummingbirds – science – life

It has been more than 20 years since birds World Colombian Alejandro Rico Guevara Chase hummingbirds to reveal their secrets, but when picking out the most surprising details I’ve found about these small and fast birds, two things stand out: discovering the mechanism by which they actually feed and understanding their behaviour, more so than some fragile animals, may be some of the little warriors.

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For centuries, hummingbirds’ tongues were thought to act like small glass tubes when touched liquid They got it. But Alejandro Rico found it was a combination of mechanisms that he described as incredible.

“It’s a trap liquid At the tip it works like when a piece of cloth stands on a wet surface and expands to catch the water and closes again”, explains Rico Guevara. Details are added to this like flexible tongue It is grooved that when hummingbirds introduce it into the nectar, it relaxes and opens, and closes when removed by the surface tension of the liquid.

It doesn’t require any muscle work but they hunt ي nectar “Automatic and that makes it very effective,” says the biologist, who has been around since 2019. Ornithology Secretary From the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle (US), an institution with more than 100 years of tradition.

Seeing the tongues of these birds closely led this bird world to its second greatest Discovery When they realized it in beak tip Hummingbirds have very special characteristics to be able to squeeze nectar from the tongue.

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There, he and his colleagues at the University of California note that there are some species that have beaks that do not match the description of what they must have to extract nectar from the tongue. The hypothesis Their strongest so far is that there are some of them with weapons and pointed points that act as daggers and daggers keratin teeth that work to generate friction He plucks his opponents’ feathers while fighting.

Androdon aequatorialis . Hummingbird beak detail

“It is very strange, now that we have a vision Videos We are dealing with high speed interaction with hummingbirds we can see how se shuzan each other or bite, for example. We’ve gone from picturing them as forest fairies to about swordsmen The aerial that wrestles with the beak and with objects,” details the ornithologist.

Return to the land of birds

Rico Guevara found his passion thanks to the influence he had during his university studies biology At the National University Professor Gary Styles, one of the most important ornithologists in the country and Secretary of the Bird Collection at the Institute of Natural Sciences at this institution, the birds The largest is located in Colombia.

But unlike the path taken by this North American who arrived in the country following the greats diversity Of the birds we enjoy, the biologist started his career here in Colombia and decided to continue it in the United States, where he was a student at PhD In the lab led by scientist Margaret Rubiga at the University of Connecticut.

Even though he resides in this country, his choice was to continue promoting Investigation in Colombia. “Living here I can bring in resources and technology to further advance the research and now we have many Colombian biologists to work with in various projects“, Confirms.

Alejandro Rico Guevara

Alejandro Rico Guevara is Curator of Ornotology, Burke Museum

Benefit from the great diversity of birds and hummingbirds owned by the country in the surrounding national territory 165 species, which is roughly half of those in the Americas, Rico Guevara consolidated the Colibrí Gorriazul Research Center, a farm near Fusagasugá where researchers Colombians and foreigners notice the birds approaching the installed feeders, attracted by the sugar-sweetened water they become happy volunteers for the study.

A project that was born even before he began his studies in biology, with the support of his parents. “She has been an invaluable inspiration and support for my interest in biology. My father is a naturalist without having taken courses and always helps me with experiments and field trips. It was necessary to realize the dream of a research center dedicated to hummingbirds in Colombia,” says the researcher.

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Collecting birds in this space helps to get a file watching Continuous migration patterns, for example, as many hummingbirds rise and fall from Mountain, which changes the dynamics vaccination And between species along a longitudinal gradient.

In addition, they study the mechanisms of Nutrition and control. Details that ornithologists describe as independent pieces of the puzzle they have to solve to understand how nature works.

More to discover

This hummingbird expert’s next goal is to fully understand him Energetic Which consists of the energy they gain with the consumption of nectar, which will determine the process coevolución with difference What plants do they feed on, why do some species have longer beaks than others? Flores Be long or somewhat curved.

Another topic covered by his current studies is Aerodynamics of flight, aimed at understanding how they can sustain themselves with the nectar they drink. For now, his field trips continue as he tries to understand long trips Some species cross from Alaska to Florida or Mexico. Like this, there are still many mysteries to be solved.

ALEJANDRA LÓPEZ P.
EL TIEMPO . Editor
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