A remarkable new study has examined the brains of woodpeckers and discovered some things that could help humans.
The woodpecker is an incredible animal, somehow able to withstand countless blows to the head through its constant pecking of trees without destroying its brain in the process. But a new study suggests that they may experience some damage from the blunt force trauma, and the findings may help us understand human brains as well.
The bodies of woodpeckers are designed for their activities, and they have been a successful species for millions of years, so scientists compared the brains of downey woodpeckers wtih those of red-winged blackbirds, a non-pecking bird, to figure out how their brains handled it. They found that in fact there were excessive build-ups of tau, which is a protein found in humans with head trauma or neurodegenerative diseases, in the brains of the woodpeckers compared to the blackbirds.
That is not necessarily a sign of brain damage, scientists say, as it could be a defense mechanism of the brain that actually defends itself from the trauma. Further study could help researchers understand what this tau build-up means and what kind of implications this has for our understanding of the human brain.
“There have been all kinds of safety and technological advances in sports equipment based on the anatomic adaptations and biophysics of the woodpecker assuming they don’t get brain injury from pecking. The weird thing is, nobody’s ever looked at a woodpecker brain to see if there is any damage,” says Peter Cummings of the Boston University School of Medicine, one of the new study’s authors, according to a Field Museum statement.