As they whizz through the air in a flurry of flapping wings and frantic buzzes, hummingbirds appear nothing more than a blur to the naked eye.
Now, high-speed footage of these remarkable creatures has revealed an unprecedented look at the unseen details of their lives, from their tiny forked tongues to the intricate wing motion that allows them to hover in the air for upwards of 30 seconds at a time.
Photographer Anand Varma filmed the hummingbirds using a camera capable of capturing 3,000 frames per second, leading to a breathtaking series of images for National Geographic that now allows the fleeting activities of these speedy birds to remain frozen in time.
While the intricacies of this ritual become apparent at 500 frames per second, they were totally invisible when the team witnessed it in person.
‘There’s stuff that you absolutely do not see with the naked eye,’ Clark told National Geographic.
‘Put a high-speed camera on it, and you’re like ‘Holy cow! That’s what the bird’s doing?’
But, filming these tiny birds is no simple feat, the experts explain.
Not only did the task require the use of a 4K camera that’s capable of shooting 3,000 frames per second, but the team also had to build special tools to better visualize their movements.
Hummingbirds are able to flap their wings nearly 100 times per second, with most of these birds in North America averaging about 53 beats per second for a normal flight, according to the National Park Service.
And, their hearts can beat over 1,000 times per minute.
Despite their staggering speeds, however, even hummingbirds occasionally meet their match.
Over the years, there have been numerous anecdotal accounts of hummingbirds being captured and eaten by praying mantises.
In one such report, a researcher observing hummingbirds was drawn over to a flowering thistle after hearing a ‘shrill squeak.’
Further inspection revealed a Carolina Mantid with a female Broad-tailed Hummingbird in its grip, which struggled for about a minute before finally dying.
The report continues on to explain that the mantis fed on the bird’s neckline until blood became visible.
And, a recent study conducted by researchers in the US and Switzerland found that this bizarre feeding behaviour isn’t all that uncommon.
All in all, the team found 147 documented cases of the practice from all over the world, with more than 70 percent reported in the US.
The researchers concluded hummingbirds make up the vast majority of birds killed by praying mantises, with the Ruby-throated Hummingbird a particularly frequent victim.