Light and Sturdy Toco Toucan Beak


The Toco Toucan, native to South America, is characterized by its large, colorful beak that is about one-third the total length of its body. This large beak is very light, weighing the equivalent of 3 nickels (15g). This is only 1/20th of the bird’s weight, so it does not hinder their flying. Moreover, even though it is light, the beak is strong enough to catch food and to be used in defense. How can the toco toucan’s beak combine the two conflicting elements of lightweight and strength? The secret lies in the three main features of the beak’s construction. First, the inside of the beak is hollow, which makes the entire beak lightweight. Second, the shell layer, which forms the outside of the beak, is made up of layers of veneer made from a hexagonal, thin protein called keratin. The layers are stacked in a sandwich construction, similar to the layers of cardboard, which contributes to overall strength. Third, the inside of the shell has a honeycomb structure (a structure like a bee’s nest of lined-up hexagons) that is called a “foam structure.” The main support for this foam structure comes from very rigid keratin fibers that are full of calcium and form a hexagon around the hollow spaces. This decreases the density of the beak and makes it lighter while providing support from the inside to maintain strength. By using sandwich construction and foam construction separately, the toco toucan is able to achieve weight reduction while retaining strength.

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Efficiency(Energy Saving, Resource Saving, Light):
Weight-savingHigh intensity

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We can apply the idea of lightweight yet strong construction to increase the ability of cars to keep passengers safe in the event of accidents. It can also be used to increase fuel efficiency of planes by developing more lightweight wings and bodies.

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