Episode 182 – Toucan: A Cool Snoot for Fruit

“…we’re talking about a colorful jungle bird that follows his nose for froot… I mean fruit. But more on that later.”

The jungle is a paradise of delectable nectar and fantastic fruit. For those that can reach these delights, the jungle provides everything you need. But it takes some special equipment to take advantage of such decadent prizes. But nature can throw all kinds of challenges your way, so the toucan carries a multitool on the front of its face. It’s a lesson in being prepared for anything, in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of a Toco Toucan

  • This is your quintessential toucan
  • It has a passerine-esque body (crow-like) with jet-black feathers on its body
  • Its throat and lower half of its face are covered with a super Nintendo controller-shaped patch that’s stark white with a well-defined border, giving it an orca-like coloration.
  • It also has a small patch of white feathers on its rump just above the tail feathers with a bright red patch on the flipside underneath the tail
  • But here’s where it gets interesting. If you’ve ever heard of the toucan, you know that its most defining characteristic is its…eyes
  • Its eyes are black and beady – like a bird’s. But the eyes are ringed with a bright blue circle and the area around the circle is yellowish-orange.
  • Ok for real though, the toucan’s bill is the real reason you’re listening to this episode. 
    • Where a normal bird’s forehead and face would be, the toucan has a massive bill jutting out.
    • It’s shaped like a huge crab claw that hooks downward at the tip
    • The bill is bright orange and yellow – like Slash’s signature sunburst les paul. The upper half is a brighter yellow with the lower half being a rich orange
    • There’s a black patch near the end where the top half hooks down like an eagle’s beak and a black ring where the bill meets the toucan’s head – like an o-ring making sure no toucan leaks out from the seams
  • Now it’s time for: Know the Difference
    • Joe, do you know the difference between a beak and a bill?
    • According to ornathology.com – a sketchy-looking wordpress site, there is no difference – the two terms are interchangeable. Just people tend to use “beak” as a subset of bills used for killing things.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We do have a new measure up intro this week from Nora! 


  • 55–65 cm (21.5–25.5 in)
  • How many toucan lengths would it take to reach the highest restaurant in the world?
  • Hint: The restaurant is at the Chacaltaya ski resort in Bolivia. Unfortunately, the resort is barren these days. It was opened in the 1930s and skiers could enjoy snowy slopes all year round atop a 18,000 year old glacier. However, by 2009, the glacier was gone and no tourists were interested in sliding down rocky slopes. You can still get a hot meal there though.
  • 8,215 toucans. The restaurant was at 5340m (17,519 ft).


  • Males weigh 723 g (1 lb 9.5 oz)
  • How many toucans go into the weight of lions it would take to destroy the sun?
  • Hint: A popular meme format includes a simple image of two things with a vs in the middle. One of these memes that was going around the internet was 1 trillion lions versus the sun. A Youtuber called Eklectic found that a trillion lions would be barely visible next to the sun and do nothing at all to hinder it. So he crunched the numbers and calculated how many lions in a great ball of lions it would take to crush into a black hole and swallow the sun (and destroy the solar system).
  • 2.13307615 × 10^40  toucans. It took 1.8 x 10^36 lions. 

Fast Facts About the Toco Toucan

  • Range: They live in the open plains and woodlands of central South America Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. There are also sparse populations in the Guianas. They are the only members of the Ramphastos genus that don’t live in the jungle.
  • Diet: they are omnivorous and eat everything from fruits and berries to lizards, rodents, small birds, and insects.

Major Fact: The Nose Knows

A toucan’s beak is probably it’s most defining feature. It’s big and colorful. But as is often the case in nature, the toucan’s most striking feature may also be its most functional.

The beak’s first function is for foraging. These 8 inch long appendages are usefuling in plucking fruit off of branches in otherwise hard to reach places. In fact, their beaks are also serrated like a steak knife or a saw for ripping appart food.

But the beaks are also used for other purposes, including defense, attracting mates, and in temperature regulation. 

Yes, we have another nose for personal climate control. Toucan beaks are thin and if you look closely, you can see veins running through it. Having such a large, thin surface area for their blood to run through allows them to cool down in the sweltering heat of South America. 

However, at night the temperature can drop. To avoid losing heat at night, they’ll tuck their beaks up along their bodies and sleep with their beak on top of them.

Built Toucan Tough

The beak is both incredibly strong and surprisingly lightweight. The beak makes up a third of the bird’s length and only a 20th of its weight. Despite its weight allowing the bird to maintain its ability to fly, their beaks are also super durable. 

An article in AskNature.org says, “The beak’s solid outer shell sandwiches within it a closed-cell, foam-like structure made of struts which, together with thin protein membranes, enclose variably shaped air spaces. The solid shell layer is built of overlapping, hexagonally-shaped thin plates of keratin protein held together by an organic glue.”

This structure makes their beaks useful for defense, and able to take significant impacts. The article goes on to suggest this structural design could be integrated into cars to make them more crash resistant without sacrificing fuel economy by adding weight. 

Ending: So use your bill to keep you chill, expand your diet, and always follow your nose like the Toco toucan Sam here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.