Ever look at a woodpecker and wonder if they get brain damage?
The answer wasn’t clear until recently, simply because nobody ever thought to take a closer look at a woodpecker’s brain. It was accepted that this species had evolved to a point where their brain would be able to take a daily beating.
To find out once and for all, researchers studied bird brains provided by the Field Museum and the Harvard Museum of Natural History. No woodpeckers were killed purposefully for this study.
Here are 6 interesting facts surrounding this study
- Woodpeckers peck extremely hard. Every time the beak hits a tree, the head experiences a force of between 1200 and 1400g. To put that in perspective, if your head weighs 5kg, and it hits a tree stump at 2g, the total force would be 10kg. Humans normally get a concussion from forces of 60g and greater.
- The researchers were looking for a protein called tau. It is usually found as a build-up on human brains that suffered trauma. Tau was found on woodpecker brains, in fact, more than double that found around several blackbird brains.
- To study the brains, the researchers sliced them into thin pieces. These pieces were less than 5th the thickness of a sheet of A4 paper.
- While there was excessive tau build up on the brains, the researchers can’t say for sure whether brain damage was the cause.
- Woodpeckers date back 25 million years, so the tau build up might even be considered part of evolution. If pecking did cause brain damage, their bodies might have evolved to a point where the build-up is there from the beginning to protect the brain.
- Manufacturers of sports equipment have made several advances in safety gear, thanks to woodpecker skulls. These were manufactured under the assumption that woodpeckers don’t suffer from brain damage, but these advances saved thousands of lives regardless.