Very cool paper out in Science today demonstrating that the Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco) uses its bill for thermoregulation.
The story seems to be getting some good traction with the popular press, unsprisingly given the winning combination of outside the box thinking, novel application of hi-tech toy tool (an infrared camera) and charismatic megafauna.
Check out LiveScience for an awesome video (or if you are lucky enough to have access to Science you can watch the video–commercial free–in the supplementary info for the new paper).
Adapted from Figure 1 - Tattersall et al. 2009
Note that the new study does not explicitly rule out sexual selection or foraging strategies as important factors in the evolution of the Toucan bill. Multifunction is ubiquitous in nature (something paleontologists who argue that X structure evolved for Y reason would be well-served to remember). Nevertheless the Tatterall et al. paper poses an interesting question as to whether thermoregulation has been an overlooked factor in the evolution of other bird groups. The Hornbills of tropical Asia and Africa–often claimed as ecological analogues of Neotropical Toucans–would be a logical candidate for similar study.
Oh yeah, here’s some hive mind Wikipedia brilliance on Toucan Sam:
Biologically speaking, Toucan Sam appears to be a Keel-billed Toucan parrot. Keel-billed Toucan Parrots are well-known for their colorful beaks and propensity for fruit in their diets, two features which are very consistent with the character.
Really Wikipedia? Toucans are parrots? RU SURE? And anyway I thought he was a Mountain Toucan you know, biologically speaking. He is blue after all.
And before anyone calls me out for complaining about a Wikipedia entry without fixing it, I mean, come on, it’s really too awesome to amend isn’t it?
Tattersall, GJ, DV Andrade and A Abe Science 24 July 2009 Vol. 325. no. 5939, pp. 468 – 470 DOI: 10.1126/science.1175553