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Hummingbird Bills and Heliconia Flowers

Co-evolution at its finest. . .

These Purple-throated Caribs live on many of the Antillean Islands in the Caribbean. The female’s bill is long and deeply curved. The male’s is shorter and straighter. And this one species of bird has a specialized relationship with two different species of flowering Heliconia plants. When research documenting the relationship was published in 2003, one scientist remarked that this Carib-Heliconia relationship was the most convincing evidence for co-evolution that he’d ever seen. 

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Transcript: 

BirdNote®
Hummingbird Bills and Heliconia Flowers
Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Music – Through the Night Softly by Jim O’Rourke]

Here’s a story about a hummingbird: the Purple-throated Carib. 

It lives on many of the Antillean Islands in the Caribbean, and the male and female birds have differently shaped bills. The female’s is long and deeply curved. The male’s is shorter and straighter. And this one species of bird has a specialized relationship with two different species of flowering Heliconia plants. [Music – Through the Night Softly by Jim O’Rourke]

One plant has a blossom that has a long, curved corolla — an excellent fit for the bill of the female Purple-throated Carib. The second plant has a flower that’s an excellent fit for the male bird. It delivers a larger dose of nectar, which the male needs because it’s 25% bigger than the female. The birds help pollinate the flowers, so the relationship has a payoff for the Heliconia, too. 

This is an example of co-evolution, where different species evolve in conjunction with each other, continually matching each other’s changing adaptations. When research documenting it was published in 2003, one scientist remarked that this Carib-Heliconia relationship was the most convincing evidence for co-evolution that he’d ever seen. “The only thing better,” he said, “would be if I could live for a million years and watch it actually happen.”

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein. [Music – Through the Night Softly by Jim O’Rourke]

###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Music "Through the Night Softly" written and performed by Jim O’Rourke, from the album Eureka on Drag City, 1999
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black

© 2016 Tune In to Nature.org        March 2016         Narrator: Michael Stein

ID #    PURCAR-01-2016-03-09        PURCAR-01

Showing original Carib-Heliconia connections: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1890/08-0695.1

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Birds-flowers-found-to-evolve-for-eac...

https://www3.amherst.edu/~ejtemeles/hummingbirds.html

showing additional pollinators: http://www.academia.edu/982745/Heliconia-hummingbird_interactions_in_the...

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