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
SEP 02, 2022
Plants & Animals
Bumblebee Survival Negatively Impacted by Early Onset of Spring
SEP 02, 2022
Bumblebee Survival Negatively Impacted by Early Onset of Spring
Bumblebees have been all the buzz lately. Headlines abound about how bumblebee populations continue to decline across th ...
SEP 11, 2022
Technology
Walking and Slithering Share Common Characteristics
SEP 11, 2022
Walking and Slithering Share Common Characteristics
In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers led by the Uni ...
SEP 16, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
Grad Student Highlights: Shannon Barry (Florida Institute of Technology)
SEP 16, 2022
Grad Student Highlights: Shannon Barry (Florida Institute of Technology)
This interview series is focused on the graduate student experience across all STEM fields that allows them to get their ...
SEP 11, 2022
Plants & Animals
Potential Treatment for Chagas Disease
SEP 11, 2022
Potential Treatment for Chagas Disease
Chagas disease is a condition caused by a parasitic infection; specifically, the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi), ...
SEP 21, 2022
Plants & Animals
Mutation Correction Machinery from Moss Transplanted to Human Cells
SEP 21, 2022
Mutation Correction Machinery from Moss Transplanted to Human Cells
Protein creation is essential to the normal function of healthy cells. Proteins help communicate key information to vari ...
OCT 07, 2022
Plants & Animals
Petting Dogs Engages Social Elements of the Brain
OCT 07, 2022
Petting Dogs Engages Social Elements of the Brain
Animals have been playing an important role in health, medicine, and the promotion of wellbeing for years now. It’ ...
Loading Comments...