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Natural World

Are woodpeckers damaging their own brains ?

February 4, 2018 | Comment icon 7 comments



Could woodpeckers really be hurting themselves ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 Steve Ryan
The act of hitting tree trunks thousands of times may actually be giving woodpeckers brain damage.
For the longest time, it was believed that the woodpecker's signature behavior was harmless to the birds themselves, especially given that the species has been thriving for more than 25 million years.

Now though, researchers have discovered buildups of a protein called tau in the brains of these unusual birds that in humans would be indicative of neurodegenerative disease or head trauma.

"One day in the lab I was talking to another professor about how we've designed different types of sports safety equipment, like football helmets, based on the biomechanics of the woodpecker, but no one had ever looked at a woodpecker brain," said neuropathologist Peter Cummings.
Although woodpeckers do possess several adaptations designed to mitgate the impact of pecking, their bodies are still subjected to a significant amount of force when they engage in this behavior.

"If indeed pecking is leading to increased tau accumulation, our study can't tell the difference between tau that might be protective or pathological," said Cummings.

"However, you can hypothesize that because the birds have been in existence for millions of years and are thriving, that trauma-related neurodegenerative disease might not be an issue."

Source: Yahoo! News | Comments (7)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Hankenhunter 4 years ago
Thousands of hits? You might want to bump that up a bit. If the romantic b***** that beats on the top of the power pole by my bedroom to entice females is any indication, he would rattle off a thousand hits in one morning. By the end of mating season he must have one hammer of a headache.  Hank
Comment icon #2 Posted by Sundew 4 years ago
That explains a lot.....
Comment icon #3 Posted by Hankenhunter 4 years ago
 
Comment icon #4 Posted by Silent Trinity 4 years ago
I can see some merit perhaps in the research but surely, evolution has made the Woodpecker what it is and they have developed like most other creatures according to their needs, and according to the requirements of their life, therefore I would have thought that they would not have such a violent concussive impact as perhaps a human would who has not developed a need to hammer wood with their heads at high speed. Perhaps any calcified deposits on their brains would therefore actually come from the human impact on their lives, making metal and concrete poles etc that they won't know are not tre... [More]
Comment icon #5 Posted by DirtyDocMartens 4 years ago
As long as they live long enough to reproduce, it doesn't matter what happens to their brains later in their lives. That's how evolution works.
Comment icon #6 Posted by TripGun 4 years ago
What is the baseline to measure a birds stupidity? The glass box test? 
Comment icon #7 Posted by paperdyer 4 years ago
Hey - let's capture some Woodpecker families that are nesting.  Let the eggs hatch and have the NFL equipment manufacturers fit half of the baby woodpeckers with helmets when they come of age to want wood and run a study to see if the helmets work.  We could save the woodpeckers from extinction and stupidity from brain damage.  If there isn't any brain damage noted either way, then the construction of the woodpecker skull needs to be looked at to help the NFL equipment manufacturers to make better helmets.  Of course all the animal rights people would prevent this study from getting off the gr... [More]


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