CLOSE
Original image

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About the Sleeping Patterns of Hummingbirds

Original image

There are some topics you probably never thought you'd be interested in, including the nocturnal habits of hummingbirds. But there exists a YouTube video that is so fascinating (read: adorable), it begs exploration of this topic. In the video, a green female hummingbird slumbers, and with every one of its tiny breaths, the bird lets out a high-pitched sigh, making it appear as though it is ... snoring.

So, what exactly is going on here? Do hummingbirds actually snore?

"Maybe … sort of … but not for the same reasons we do," says Joe Hanson at his (awesomely named) blog, It's Okay to be Smart. We humans snore when our airways are obstructed during sleep. The story behind this bird is much cooler.

The video was taken at a Peru research facility while the hummingbird slept in a special container meant to measure its oxygen intake. The goal of this experiment was to examine the metabolism of hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds beat their wings between 12 and 80 times per second, depending on the species. To make up for all that lost energy, the creatures consume the human equivalent of a refrigerator full of food every day. Unlike other birds, hummingbirds don't have insulating feathers to keep them warm, thus they are incredibly vulnerable when cold weather strikes. To keep themselves from freezing, at night, hummingbirds slip into a kind of hibernation, called torpor. This state allows them to lower their internal temperature and consume up to 50 times less energy. "This way, they aren’t burning calories on cold nights when they aren’t able to eat and recharge," Hanson says. The birds' brains power down, and their breathing becomes so shallow as to be almost undetectable. Torpid hummingbirds are sleeping so deeply, it looks like they're dead.

To awaken from such a deep state of hibernation takes some time—about 20 minutes, actually. The heartbeat increases, normal breathing patterns resume, and the birds begin to shiver, which helps warm their muscles and increase bloodflow. Hanson hypothesizes the bird in this video is in a state of awakening, "starting to breathe in more oxygen to raise its body temperature," and making a "snoring" noise in the process.

Enough science! For your entertainment, here are some other snoring animals.

A pig:

A bunny:

A doormouse:

A duck:

Original image
iStock
arrow
science
Why Adding Water to Your Whiskey Makes It Taste Better
Original image
iStock

Don’t ever let people tease you for watering down your whiskey. If they’re true aficionados, they’ll know that adding a splash of water or a few cubes of ice to your drink will actually enhance its natural flavors. But how can something as flavorless as water make a barrel-aged scotch or bourbon taste even better? Chemists think they’ve found the answer.

As The Verge reports, researchers from the Linnæus University Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry in Sweden analyzed the molecular composition of whiskey in the presence of water. We already know that the molecule guaiacol is largely responsible for whiskey’s smoky taste and aroma. Guaiacol bonds to alcohol molecules, which means that in straight whisky that guaiacol flavor will be fairly evenly distributed throughout the cask. Alcohol is repelled by water, and guaiacol partially so. That means when a splash of the water is added to the beverage the alcohol gets pushed to the surface, dragging the guaiacol along with it. Concentrated at the top of the glass, the whiskey’s distinctive taste and scent is in the perfect position to be noticed by the drinker.

According to the team’s experiments, which they laid out in the journal Scientific Reports [PDF], whiskey that’s been diluted down to 40 percent to 45 percent alcohol content will start to show more guaiacol sloshing near the surface. Most commercial whiskey is already diluted before it's bottled, so the drink you order in a bar should fall within this range to begin with. Adding additional water or ice will boost the flavor-enhancing effect even further.

As for just how much water to add, the paper doesn’t specify. Whiskey lovers will just have to conduct some experiments of their own to see which ratios suit their palate.

[h/t NPR]

Original image
Gray, George Robert; Hullmandel & Walton; Hullmandel, Charles Joseph; Mitchell, D. W / Public Doman
arrow
Animals
DNA Tests Show ‘Extinct’ Penguin Species Never Existed
Original image
Gray, George Robert; Hullmandel & Walton; Hullmandel, Charles Joseph; Mitchell, D. W / Public Doman

Science is a self-correcting process, ever in flux. Accepted hypotheses are overturned in the face of new information. The world isn’t flat after all. Disease isn’t caused by demons or wickedness. And that Hunter Island penguin? Yeah, apparently that was just a figment of our imaginations. Researchers writing in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society say the remains of one supposed species are in fact a “jumbled mixture” of bones from three extant species.

The bones were unearthed in the 1980s during the excavation of a prehistoric trash heap on Tasmania’s Hunter Island. Two scientists named Tets and O’Connor argued that the remains were different enough from other penguins to constitute their own genus and species, one which must have died out during the Holocene epoch. The proud potential penguin parents dubbed the apparently extinct bird Tasidyptes hunterivan, and that was that.

Except that this is science, where no story is ever really over. Other biologists were not satisfied with the evidence Tets and O’Connor presented. There were only four bones, and they all bore some resemblance to species that exist today. Fortunately, in 2017, we’ve got ways of making fossils talk. A research team led by Tess Cole of the University of Otago used DNA barcoding to examine the genetic code of each of the four bones.

“It was a fun and unexpected story,” Cole said in a statement, “because we show that Tasmania’s ‘extinct' penguin is not actually an extinct or unique penguin at all.”

Snares penguins dive into the water.
Snares penguins (Eudyptes robustus).
Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The bones were “a jumbled mixture of three living penguin species, from two genera": the Fiordland crested penguin or Tawaki (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) and the Snares crested penguin (Eudyptes robustus), both of New Zealand, and the Australian little fairy penguin (Eudyptula novaehollandiae).

“This study shows how useful ancient DNA testing can be,” Cole said. “Not only does it help us identify new but extinct species, but it can help us rule out previously postulated species which did not exist, as in this case.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios