Hummingbirds and nectar bats coevolved with the plants they visit to feed on floral nectars rich in sugars. The extremely high metabolic costs imposed by small size and hovering flight in combination with reliance upon sugars as their main source of dietary calories resulted in convergent evolution of a suite of structural and functional traits. These allow high rates of aerobic energy metabolism in the flight muscles, fueled almost entirely by the oxidation of dietary sugars, during flight. High intestinal sucrase activities enable high rates of sucrose hydrolysis. Intestinal absorption of glucose and fructose occurs mainly through a paracellular pathway. In the fasted state, energy metabolism during flight relies on the oxidation of fat synthesized from previously-ingested sugar. During repeated bouts of hover-feeding, the enhanced digestive capacities, in combination with high capacities for sugar transport and oxidation in the flight muscles, allow the operation of the “sugar oxidation cascade”, the pathway by which dietary sugars are directly oxidized by flight muscles during exercise. It is suggested that the potentially harmful effects of nectar diets are prevented by locomotory exercise, just as in human hunter-gatherers who consume large quantities of honey.
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