FEB 05, 2018 04:09 AM PST

Do Woodpeckers Suffer From Brain Damage?

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
OCT 23, 2019
Immunology
OCT 23, 2019
A New Way To Fight Severe Peanut Allergies
Dr. Sandra Lin explains how SLIT is currently being used to treat allergies other than peanuts.    Over 1 million U.S. children have an allergy t...
OCT 23, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
OCT 23, 2019
A New Type of Biofluorescence is Described
There are living creatures that can absorb and reemit light, and its a widespread characteristic among marine animals....
OCT 23, 2019
Technology
OCT 23, 2019
Artificial Compound Eye Improves 3D Object Tracking
Flies are fast-reacting creatures and can sense movement quickly. Researchers have now used flies as their inspiration by developing an artificial insect i...
OCT 23, 2019
Plants & Animals
OCT 23, 2019
These Are Some of Nature's Brightest Animals
Lots of people are quick to dismiss animal intelligence as inferior to human intelligence, but let the record show that plenty of animals have earned a rep...
OCT 23, 2019
Health & Medicine
OCT 23, 2019
Medical Marijuana Allowed in California K-12 Schools
Gavin Newson, the governor of California and the leading 2016 proponent of the recreational pot legalization initiative Proposition 64, signed a bill on We...
OCT 23, 2019
Plants & Animals
OCT 23, 2019
What Makes Cheetahs Such Adept Predators?
The humble cheetah has earned its reputation as the world’s fastest land animal. This large cat is capable of accelerating to speeds of up to 60 mile...
Loading Comments...