Home » Why Do Parrots Have Holes in Their Beaks? [Interramal Space]
why do parrots have a gap under their beak?

Why Do Parrots Have Holes in Their Beaks? [Interramal Space]

Parrots have holes in their beaks underneath the lower jaw or mandible. At first glance, it’s just a fleshy gap that looks like a piece of the beak is missing.

Parrots have an interramal space in their beaks that allows them to open and close their mouths, swallow, bite, and eat food. It’s created by the U or V shape of the lower mandible.

The hole allows the parrot to use its mouth without jamming the rigid part of its beak against its throat.

This gap in the beak makes room for the tongue bone. Since parrots have a unique mouth and throat anatomy, they must accommodate multiple parts.

The glottis, choana, palate, salivary glands, esophagus, and laryngeal mound rely on this space.

Why Do Parrots Have A Gap Under Their Beak?

There are benefits to the interramal space, including:

Opening And Closing The Mouth

Without the interramal space, the hard piece of keratin and bone would press down into the skin. To make room, this movement has been accommodated to keep the beak’s movement smooth.

Eating

A parrot’s tongue is nestled into the interramal space, providing access to the rest of the beak. It’s a secure area that protects the tongue while still giving it the freedom to move around.

Parrots rely on their tongues to eat and climb. Without this space, a parrot couldn’t survive.

Swallowing

The laryngeal mound and the tongue sit within this area of the mouth; they’re necessary to move and manipulate food, coaxing it down the esophagus as the parrot swallows.

Breathing

The interramal space holds the glottis, enabling the parrot to breathe when it closes its beak.

For this reason, the gap underneath a parrot’s beak enables it to inhale and exhale safely. The glottis connects to the choana on the roof of the mouth, connecting the nostrils and trachea.

Climbing And Playing

A parrot’s ability to climb is based on its unique tongue. More importantly, the tongue contains a bone.

Its unusual structure requires a hole like the interramal space to hold it firmly in place, which allows the parrot to close its beak and grab onto things with greater dexterity.

interramal space

What Is The Hole Under A Parrot’s Beak?

The interramal space is a hub for several of your parrot’s most important beak and throat structures.

In particular, the oropharynx nestles into this lower beak hole. The oropharynx is a term that refers to a collection of parts of the anatomy, including the following:

  • Tongue
  • Glottis
  • Choana
  • Palate
  • Salivary glands
  • Esophagus
  • Laryngeal mound
  • Opening of the Eustachian tubes

So, the hole in your parrot’s beak isn’t just a gap that allows it to move its mouth effectively. The interramal space is central to a parrot’s ability to live, eat, taste, digest, and swallow.

Parrot Beak Anatomy

Not every parrot will have the same beak color, shape, or size. However, they’ll have the same structure:

Upper Mandible

The upper mandible is the part of the beak that moves up and down.

It’s supported by a three-pronged bone called the intermaxillary, which is embedded into the forehead. Simultaneously, two prongs on the lower part of the upper mandible attach to the sides of the skull.

The nasofrontal hinge facilitates the upward and downward motion. This is at the base of the upper mandible, where a sheet of nasal bones is found. The upper mandible also has a palate.

Lower Mandible

A compound bone supports the lower mandible, called the maxillary bone.

When joined together, two ossified pieces of bone make a U or V shape. This is the basis for the maxillary bone. These pieces are joined in the front of the bone and left separated at the back of the bone.

Since the bones are connected at the front, an interramal space is formed.

This space holds the tongue and its supporting structures. Although the lower mandible and the muscles holding it together are weaker than those in the upper mandible, it remains an important beak function.

The V or U structure of the lower mandible forms the iconic hole. If the beak were solid without the V or U shape, the beak would cut into its throat any time the parrot closed its mouth.

This separation of the bones gives food enough room to pass as the bones move past the head.

Oropharynx

The outer surface of the beak is called the rhamphotheca, a thin sheath made of keratin. The tomia are the cutting edges present on the mandibles. Their size and shape vary for each parrot.

However, the most important part is the oropharynx. This contains many structures, each with a specific function, none of which would work without the beak hole.

Tongue

Parrots’ tongues are unique as they contain a bone, so they can use their tongues to collect food.

Once inside the beak, the tongue can manipulate food around the mouth and swallow. Since this body part requires space to accommodate the bone, the interramal space makes this possible.

Glottis and Choana

The glottis works as the windpipe’s opening (trachea). This is paired with the choana, located on the mouth’s roof.

When the parrot can close its beak, the two structures join together, which gives the parrot a closed connection between the nostrils and the windpipe.

Laryngeal Mound and Esophagus

At the base of the tongue, parrots have a small mound called the papillae or laryngeal mound. This also enables the parrot to guide its food toward the esophagus.

Without the benefit of the interramal space, a parrot wouldn’t be able to swallow its food correctly. The laryngeal mound wouldn’t fit, and food would be blocked from the throat.

Palate and Salivary Glands

The palate and salivary glands enable parrots to eat and digest their food. The laryngeal mound holds the food before it’s pushed down toward the esophagus.

Salivary glands produce saliva, helping food to break down and travel through the esophagus. These pieces sit in the mouth of the parrot with the assistance of the interramal space.

what is the hole under a parrot's beak?

Interramal Space Problems

It’s rare for issues to develop with the interramal space, but it happens. Check for these issues:

Development Problems and Malnutrition

A parrot may hatch with a deformed or too-small interramal space, which is a genetic abnormality.

Corrective surgery may be needed, but most parrots don’t survive for long with this defect. Should the parrot grow up despite this defect, it may need assistance eating or picking up food. 

According to Exotic Animals Practice, malnutrition can cause these problems.

Malnourished chicks may develop a beak that’s weak and brittle. As a result, the hole may chip, tear, or fail to grow like the rest of the beak.

Disease and Infection

The hole in a parrot’s beak is indirectly connected to the ear canals, where infections may develop.

This is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, leading to ear infections. Symptoms include swelling and redness, which could enter the interramal space.

According to the New Zealand Veterinary Journal, bacterial sinusitis can result in severe beak deformities. Check for swelling, redness, or loss of feathers in the interramal space.

Trauma

If parrots crack their beaks against a hard object, their interramal space may get damaged, along with the rest of their beak. This is an unlikely area to be torn or ripped since it’s safely nestled under the beak.

This is more common with young or unsocialized parrots still learning their capabilities. According to the Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, you can fix a damaged beak using a dental composite.

Signs of A Healthy Gap Under Parrot’s Beak

The hole underneath a parrot’s beak may look different from another’s. A healthy gap under the beak will have all of the structures discussed.

These will be visible when the parrot opens its mouth. Your parrot is in good health if none of these areas are inflamed, torn, or discolored.

Check that your parrot can open and close its mouth. If it refuses to open or shut its mouth the entire way, it may have an abnormal interramal space, but this is rare.