Bundle of Nerves

Clusters of extremely sensitive cells in the beak of the Red Knot take pressure readings in the sand

08-01-1999 // NWF Staff

If you poke your finger into wet sand, you´ll send tiny water currents rushing through the grains around from your finger. If those currents meet an obstacle such as a shellfish, they´ll bounce back toward your finger. That same phenomenon, Dutch researchers recently discovered, explains how the red knot finds its dinner. When the bird pokes its beak into sand, it isn´t directly hunting for prey. Rather, clusters of extremely sensitive cells in the beak take pressure readings from the resulting water currents, which give away the locations of buried shellfish. That´s why red knots need wet, rockless sand for their foraging. The birds migrate from the tip of South America to the Arctic, stopping over on the way along the Eastern Seaboard--primarily in Delaware Bay.

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