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
JUN 28, 2018
JUN 28, 2018
Walk the Dog, It's Good for You
Anyone who owns a dog knows that rain or shine, snow or fair weather, the dog needs to be walked or they’re going to mess up the house. As it happens...
JUL 02, 2018
Plants & Animals
JUL 02, 2018
Lemurs Can Detect the Weakest Link by Scent
While you might be able to tell if somebody else is injured merely by looking at them, it appears as though lemurs use an entirely different approach: the ...
JUL 16, 2018
Earth & The Environment
JUL 16, 2018
Do you know what your sunscreen is doing to coral reefs?
Hawaii Governor David Ige has signed into law a ban on the sale, offer, or distribution of any sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate. That means t...
JUL 19, 2018
JUL 19, 2018
The Transition to Multicellular Life May Have Been Simple
It may have been relatively easy for complex organisms to form from one-celled microbes, researchers suggest....
JUL 27, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
JUL 27, 2018
Getting Water From an Internal Source
When snakes were deprived of water they turned to muscle to fill their needs....
SEP 20, 2018
SEP 20, 2018
A Plant 'Nervous System' is Found
Learn more about how plants communicate....
Loading Comments...