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Toucans: nature’s engineering excellence

by Yucatan Times
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Mérida, Yucatán (April 16, 2021).- Toucans are an achievement of nature’s engineering because their beaks, although they are equivalent to a third of their body, allow them to fly and maintain balance in the trees, said biologist Roberto Rojo, director of the Playa del Carmen planetarium.

“Its main characteristic is its large beak, which is structurally very interesting because it is not very heavy, it has a three-dimensional structure that gives it enough solidity to be functional, but at the same time it does not represent a weight that prevents them from flying”, explains the biologist.

This beak allows them to harvest food directly from the plants: with a special movement they manage to detach the fruit from the tree and it falls directly into their throat (it does not undergo a chewing process).

In the Yucatan peninsula there are three of the 42 species of toucans that exist: the Canoe- billed Toucan ( Ramphastos sulfuratus ), Collarejo Toucan ( Pteroglossus torquatus ) and Green Toucan ( Aulacorhynchus prasinus )

Photo: (Dan Riskin)

“Toucans are specifically American birds, from the American continent, you do not find them in other parts of the world. They feed mainly on fruits and are great dispersers of seeds, they are also indicators of a healthy jungle,” said the interviewee.

Despite being basically herbivores, they eventually need to supplement their diet with animal protein, which is why they also become predators; they eat small birds, insects, bats, lizards, and small rodents.

Toucans are born completely “featherless”, that is, they do not have absolutely no feathers at all, they grow them as days go by. They also have a kind of “pads” on their legs because their nests are very rustic compared to those of other species. This natural “cushioning” prevents the chicks from hurting themselves.

They do not produce a song as such, the sound they emit is more like a tapping or the sound of the woodpecker.

Photo: (Daniel Alexander Carrillo)

The Green Tucancillo, also known as the Esmeralda Tucaneta, is the most common in Quintana Roo. Its main characteristic is its intense green color, from which it got its name.

The largest specimens are those of the “canoe beak” species or Ramphastos sulfuratus. The name is due to the sulfur ( sulfuratus ) that is yellow and is the color that prevails in the plumage of this bird.

“The canoe beak or royal beak is the most striking of the toucans, it causes admiration for its size and color,” said Roberto Rojo and indicated that although these species are not considered endangered, they are classified as “threatened”.

Some of the factors that threaten this species are deforestation and poaching. He recalled that after the hurricanes that passed through the peninsula last year it was possible to see toucans in the cities, “this had to do directly with the fact that their food, the fruits, fell and suddenly they ran out of food, so they had to move to other places looking for food, without knowing that the closest to the human being, the greatest the danger. “

He condemned that in many cases the reaction of the ignorant population was to throw sticks or stones at them to drive them away or in other cases catch them to sell them or keep them as pets: “they eat a great diversity of fruits and whoever has them in their home is not going to be able to provide them with that diversity of food, then either they will die or will suffer a lot since they will not be having the properly balanced diet, which they can only find in the jungle. “

Trapping and possessing these animals is prohibited and is subject to penalties by the federal authority.

“These three types of toucans are not endemic to the Yucatan peninsula, that is, their geographical distribution is wider, in fact, most of them begin their distribution in the Mexican southeast and end in the north of South America: Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador “, detailed the director of the planetarium.

As a curious fact, he said that it is very common for people to confuse the toucans that are seen in this region of the country with a bird that appears in Disney movies and that is black and white, but that is another species: “the ones we have here are yellow-breasted. “

A female toucan can lay one to four eggs per season and they are careful parents to their young. “They have parental care, both parents bring food to the nest until the chick feathers and begins to fly,” said the interviewee.

An adult toucan can measure between 42 and 55 centimeters; their beak alone reaches between 12 and 15 centimeters or a third of the total length of the body and they can weigh up to half a kilo.

“They must live in a healthy forest, which produces many fruits throughout the year, which gives them a diversity of food, so their presence is an indicator of how healthy their habitat is,” explained Roberto Rojo.

The expert stated: “from a tick to a jaguar, each species is unique, it has an evolutionary history of millions of years, an ecological niche with a specific function and many other species depend on it.”

Source: La Jornada Maya

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