Pelicans don’t push their spines out of their mouths to cool down

28 March 2022
What was claimed

Pelicans can take their spines out of their mouths to cool themselves down.

Our verdict

False. Pelicans don’t do this—pictures shared alongside this claim actually just show birds yawning.

A post on Facebook claims that pelicans “take their spines out of their mouths to cool themselves”.

The claim is accompanied by three pictures of birds with what appear to be their spines appearing to protrude out of their mouths, and an illustration of the process. 

But as other fact checkers have previously written, this isn’t true. Sharon Stiteler, a US National Park ranger and bird expert, told US Today that the photos actually show birds yawning.

Paleontologist Darren Naish added that the apparent appearance of the spine during these yawns is called glottis exposure, which involves the birds inverting the pouches beneath their beaks over their necks and chest. This helps bring the surrounding skin back into its normal position and is also related to hygiene, but is not connected to overheating.

Dr Dani Rabaiotti, a science communicator and author working with the Zoological Society of London, told IFLScience that what appears to be the pelicans’ spines are in fact the birds lower beak pushing over their necks. 

Furthermore, not all the birds are pelicans—the bird in the top left of the post is a shoebill.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as false because the pictures only show birds yawning.

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