By Dave Sigworth, publicist of The Maritime Aquarium
Spend any amount of time in The Maritime Aquarium’s new “Lorikeets” summer exhibit and you get a little spoiled.
Hold out a cup of nectar and it’s likely that one or more lorikeets will land on your hand or your arm or your shoulder or even your head to dip their tongues into that sweet sauce. (They may even mop around on your hand, your arm or your face with their tongue, which is a harmless but entirely different sensation.)
As the birds are feeding, take a good look at how they’re feeding. Lorikeets’ tongues are specially adapted for collecting nectar and pollen – not out of paper cups at The Maritime Aquarium (although that works quite well), but naturally out of flowers in their native South Pacific environments.
A lorikeet’s tongue has brush-like shapes at the end, which can lie flat when the bird isn’t feeding but will rise up when the bird is. These bonus shapes are called papillae (pronounced pa-PILL-i). The papillae expand the tongue’s surface area and increase the chance of collecting pollen.
If you’ve ever watched a dog drink, you’ve seen that the dog curls its tongue back to collect the water in its mouth – working almost like a scoop. With lorikeets, thanks to the papillae, there’s no scooping. The bird uses rapid back-and-forth pepperings with its tongue.
You don’t have to buy a $3 cup of nectar to visit “Lorikeets.” Entry into the aviary is free with your Maritime Aquarium admission. But having birds land on you is certainly exciting, and holding a nectar cup will greatly increase your chances.
It also spoils you. I find it terribly disappointing now that the sparrows and chickadees and cardinals in my backyard don’t just land on my hand when I hold it out. It’s almost as if they’re sticking their tongues out at me. But it’s OK because their tongues aren’t as interesting.