The Violet-crowned Woodnymph is a species of medium-sized hummingbird found in the lowland rainforets of Central America and Colombia.
Hummingbirds feed on nectar from flowers, but also consume quite a few small, flying insects. They are truly amazing little creatures, with hearts that pump 600-1200 times a minute (ours beat about 75 times a minute), and wings that beat up to 90 times a second!
"Medium-sized hummingbird" is not an oxymoron. There are some very, very small hummingbirds (< 3 inches or 7.5 cm) and a few VERY LARGE hummingbirds (up to 8.5 inches or 21.5 cm).
There are several hundred different species of humminbirds, but they are only found in the Americas.
Heliconias are showy flowers of the forest understory.
Violet Saberwing, Central America's largest hummingbird.
The Long-tailed Hermit is a common hummingbird in the lowland rainforest. It's curved beak is especially designed for feeding from Heliconia flowers.
What you might call a flower here is actually a bunch of flowers. Each of the parts with red on it is called a bract, which is a special leaf that covers the flowers. Inside each bract are several small flowers, some of which you can see peeking out from the upper bracts. The whole group of flowers and bracts is called an inflorescence. Heliconias are typically pollinated by hummingbirds. There is a whole group of hummingbirds called "hermits" that have curved beaks, special for inserting into heliconia flowers. The Heliconia are related to bananas and bird-of-paradise flowers. They are all common in the understory of tropical rainforests, with Heliconias in the Neotropics, Bananas and relatives in the Old World Tropics, and bird-of-paradise flowers in the South Pacific.
The bizarre creature at the right looks like a hummingbird when it moves through the forest canopy. However, when you get an up-close look, it is actually a type of moth.
Hummingbird moths belong to a mostly nocturnal family, the Sphynx Moths (Sphingidae). These moths are important flower pollinators and some species have INCREDIBLY long tongues to fit the nectar tubes of long flowers. This allows the flower to save the valuable energy in the nectar for only the type of moth that can reach its tongue all the way down, and then that moth is likely to feed at similar flowers and spread the pollen.
Copyright Gerald R. Urquhart
Michigan State University
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