FEB 05, 2018 4:09 AM PST

Do Woodpeckers Suffer From Brain Damage?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Woodpeckers are somewhat famous for their habitual act of slamming their faces into trees, but does this activity cause any brain damage to the birds?

Citing a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE by Boston University researchers, it just might. Then again, there’s probably more to the story than meets the eye.

Do woodpeckers get brain damage from their repeated tree-pecking activities?

Image Credit: Pixabay

When a woodpecker pecks at a tree, its head moves back and forth at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. Many do this up to 12,000 times per day and experience forces ranging from 1,200-1,400 g with each strike.

Given these variables, the researchers weren’t too surprised when they discovered high concentrations of a protein called tau in preserved woodpecker brains.

Related: Are birds getting smarter because of hunters?

To give a little background, tau is a protein that aggregates in the brain after repeated trauma. High concentrations of tau have been linked to neurological problems like memory loss, confusion, and dementia. Perhaps non-coincidentally, tau also manifests itself in large quantities in football players’ brains after suffering from repeated head injuries.

While researchers have long drawn negative conclusions from excess tau concentrations in the brain, lower levels can have a positive impact. Just a little bit of tau can stabilize brain cells and help protect them from further injury.

The woodpeckers’ brains exhibited substantially more tau than we’d expect to see in a non-traumatized brain, so this implies that the birds might sustain brain injury from their repeated wood-pecking.

On the other hand, woodpeckers’ brains are entirely dissimilar from human brains, so the birds may have evolved over the years to evade brain injury and exploit tau’s positive effects – even when it’s present in high concentrations.

"The earliest woodpeckers date back 25 million years – these birds have been around for a long time," said Peter Cummings, one of the study’s co-authors.

Related: Woodpeckers utilize wood-hungry fungi to help with hole-pecking

"If pecking was going to cause brain injury, why would you still see this behavior? Why would evolutionary adaptations stop at the brain? There's a possibility that the tau in woodpeckers is a protective adaptation and maybe not pathological at all."

Admittedly, we still have a lot to learn about tau and its impact on the brain in both humans and woodpeckers. There’s no sure-fire way to say whether woodpeckers sustain brain damage or not, but perhaps future studies could shed some more light.

Source: Independent

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUL 18, 2021
Cannabis Sciences
Genetic Analysis Reveals Cannabis First Grown in China
JUL 18, 2021
Genetic Analysis Reveals Cannabis First Grown in China
Genetic analysis of over 100 cannabis Sativa genomes has revealed that the plants’ wild ancestors likely came from ...
JUL 18, 2021
Neuroscience
How Slime Molds Think Without a Brain
JUL 18, 2021
How Slime Molds Think Without a Brain
A brainless slime mold known as Physarum polycephalum uses its body to sense mechanical cues in its environment. Then, i ...
AUG 03, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Outdoor Activities and Recreation Under Stress
AUG 03, 2021
Outdoor Activities and Recreation Under Stress
Outdoor recreation has long been shown to be good for your health. Walking through parks lowers blood pressure ...
AUG 06, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Your Coffee Could be Harming the Oceans
AUG 06, 2021
Your Coffee Could be Harming the Oceans
Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed psychoactive drugs in the world. Approximately sixty plant species produce c ...
AUG 09, 2021
Coronavirus
SARS-CoV-2 Detected in Wild Deer
AUG 09, 2021
SARS-CoV-2 Detected in Wild Deer
Wildlife management officials check wild populations for pathogenic disease like chronic wasting disease. So researchers ...
AUG 31, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Researchers 3D Print Japanese-Style Beef Steaks
AUG 31, 2021
Researchers 3D Print Japanese-Style Beef Steaks
Agriculture, especially the production of meat, puts tremendous pressure on the environment and is thought to be a major ...
Loading Comments...