Tuesday, June 06, 2006

hummingbird feeder: Ants' antics, both olfactive and acrobatic

Jun. 6, 2006 12:00 AM

Today's question:

I hung up a hummingbird feeder from a wire 6 feet off the ground on our back porch. Please tell me how in the world ants know it's there. They climb up the wooden post and out over the wire to it. Do they smell it?

Yes, as a matter of fact, they do. advertisement

Ants have very poor eyesight, but they have a pretty good sense of smell. And they are pretty much always looking for something to eat. The foragers spread out all over the neighborhood of their nest looking for food, so it's not too surprising that sooner or later they come across a juicy treat like your hummingbird feeder.

Ants put down a chemical trail as they go along so they can find their way home. And if they do find food, they lay down a stronger chemical trail on their way back to the nest. Then they release a certain pheromone that lets their ant buddies know about the food, and they all follow the trail back to the eats.

You can buy feeders that have an ant moat to fill with water so the ants fall in and drown before they get to the nectar.

Or you can do this: Take one of those little 35mm film containers or the cap of a spray can, poke a hole in the bottom and string the feeders' wire through it with a knot to keep it in place. Then coat the inside with petroleum jelly. Be careful not to leave any petroleum jelly on the edge where birds might get it in their feathers.

And we have another hummingbird query.

How long is a hummingbird's tongue?

A hummingbird's tongue is about twice the length of its beak. That would make it about 1.5 inches, depending on what kind of hummingbird you are talking about.

A lot of people think hummingbirds' tongues are hollow and they use them like a straw to suck up nectar. That's not the case.

Hummingbirds have pretty interesting tongues, and they use them to lap up their food, taking about 12 licks per second.

A hummingbird's tongue has a brushy tip and a groove on either side that helps it suck up nectar and channel it to the mouth.

The end of the tongue is forked, and when not in use the tongue wraps under the jaw, behind and over the head and connects to the skull with something called the hyoid apparatus.

And the middle part of the tongue is stretchy so it can expand.

All in all, it's pretty dandy thing.

Reach Thompson at clay.thompson@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8612.


Blogger Lori said...

About roof rats. We all know they go for the citrus on the trees, but someone told me they don't eat lemons, as they are too tart. Quite a few of the lemons on my tree are split like maybe it could have been done by a roof rat. Is it true that they do not go for lemons?

11:27 AM  

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