Woodpeckers don’t have built-in shock absorbers in their heads, as previously thought, according to study

Woodpecker skulls don’t act like shock-absorbing helmets like previously thought, according to a new study that suggests their heads are more like stiff hammers.

Scientists have long tried to understand how woodpeckers repeatedly smack tree trunks with their beaks without damaging their own brains.

Previous studies theorized that the skulls must act like shock-absorbing helmets.

However, new research published Thursday in the journal Current Biologyrefutes this notion, saying that their heads look more like stiff hammers.

Scientists, including those at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, calculate that any shock absorption by the skull would actually impair the woodpeckers’ ability to peck.

“By analyzing high-speed video of three woodpecker species, we found that woodpeckers do not absorb the shock of impact with the tree,” said Sam Van Wassenbergh, lead author of the study.

In the study, the researchers quantified the impact delays during pecking in three woodpecker species.

They built biomechanical models showing that any shock absorption of the skull would be detrimental to the birds.

Contrary to previous findings, the researchers say the deceleration shock at each peck exceeds the known threshold for concussion in monkeys and humans, but the birds’ smaller brains can withstand it.

The usual pecking of woodpeckers on tree trunks is far below the threshold for causing a concussion, according to scientists, even if their skull does not function as a protective helmet.

“The lack of shock absorption doesn’t mean their brains are at risk during what appear to be violent impacts,” said Dr. Van Wassenbergh.

“Even the strongest shocks from the more than 100 analyzed woodpeckers should still be safe for the woodpeckers’ brains, as our calculations have shown that the brain load is lower than in people who suffer a concussion,” he added.

From an evolutionary perspective, scientists speculate that the results may explain why woodpeckers with much larger heads and neck muscles don’t exist.

While a bigger woodpecker could potentially deliver stronger picks, they say concussions would likely give them big problems.

“When I filmed the woodpeckers in zoos, I saw parents explain to their children that woodpeckers don’t get headaches because they have shock absorbers built into their heads. This myth of shock absorption in woodpeckers is now debunked by our results,” said Dr. Van Wassenbergh.

https://www.independent.ie/news/environment/woodpeckers-dont-have-built-in-shock-absorbers-in-their-head-as-previously-thought-study-says-41842758.html Woodpeckers don’t have built-in shock absorbers in their heads, as previously thought, according to study

Fry Electronics Team

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