Why Woodpeckers' Brains Don't Burst

Scientists found a spongy plate that protects the birds' brains
By Dustin Lushing,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 14, 2012 9:47 AM CDT
Why Woodpeckers' Brains Don't Burst
A stock image of a woodpecker.   (Shutterstock)

After jackhammering their heads into trees all day, how is it that woodpeckers don't head home with the mother of all headaches, much less brain injury? The key is an astonishingly strong skull, say researchers in Beijing. Scientists discovered that the birds' skulls are insulated with a remarkably thick, spongy bone that protects their brains. Woodpeckers bang their head into wood at a force of 1,000 times the force of gravity—way more than the maximum 46 or so Gs that humans can endure, reports LiveScience.

This spongy plate is constructed of microscopic beam-like projections of bone that form a kind of mesh. Before this finding, scientists already knew that woodpeckers fended off injury with a third eyelid that prevents their eyeballs from popping out, and sturdy neck muscles that absorb the percussions. Studying such natural helmets could help engineers produce better safety gear for humans, and prevent some of the 1 million traumatic brain injuries sustained in the US every year. (More woodpeckers stories.)

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