Description: As I write this it is Sunday February 5 and I am getting some work done to clear up my late afternoon and early evening so I can watch the Superbowl. I must admit to a bit of guilt over looking forward to the game as I have read a lot over the past few years about the level and extent of concussions in sports in general and in football in particular. While things are getting somewhat better (stricter adherence to concussion protocols etc.) there is no escaping the fact that football is a dangerous game as far as brain health is concerned. I can live with my guilt for now but with this topic on the back of my mind I was fascinated to run across an article describing recent research into a question that has tweaked my curiosity on more than one occasion but which I have not, until now, follow up on. The question was and is: Why aren’t woodpeckers constantly and horribly concussed? Ever have that question cross your mind? Well maybe it is just me….. but think about it a minute and then read the article linked below to see what research has to say about this question.
Source: Woodpeckers show signs of brain damage, but that might not be a bad thing, ScienceDaily.
Date: February 2, 2018
Photo Credit: Arrlene Koziol, the Field Museum; NBC Sports, www.popsci.com
Links: Article Link – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180202140910.htm
Ok so, first thing… it is true that woodpeckers have been around for millions of years and as such they must have evolved some things to allow them to cope with the g-forces involved in hammering wood with their beaks and heads over and over and over again… otherwise brain damage would be a strong negative selection factor related to that form of foraging. So we know now that the tau fibers that are associated with both concussion and early stages of Alzheimer’s in humans seem to play a strengthening and buffering role against brain damage if active (repeatedly head banging) woodpeckers. We also now that the construction of woodpecker skull and the cartridge that surrounds them provides very useful design ideas to people building things like bicycle helmets (more on this in the Further Reading section below). Now, short of replacing all football players with woodpeckers (and suffering the entertainment loss of all the very expensive Super Bowl Ads we will get to enjoy today, if they are not stripped by Canadian cable providers) There may be a lot more we can learn about concussion prevention and management from studying woodpeckers. Future research in this area is going to be interesting.
Questions for Discussion:
- Do woodpeckers suffer concussions?
- What roles to Tau fibers play in brain functioning?
- What sorts of research do you think we might want to consider supporting and undertaking in relation to woodpeckers and human concussion?
References (Read Further):
George Farah, Donald Siwek, Peter Cummings. Tau accumulations in the brains of woodpeckers. PLOS ONE, 2018; 13 (2): e0191526 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191526
Woodpecker Inspired Helmut Designs: https://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2011-02/woodpecker-heads-inspire-new-cushioning-systems-electronics-and-humans
Yoon, S. H., & Park, S. (2011). A mechanical analysis of woodpecker drumming and its application to shock-absorbing systems. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 6(1), 016003. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0cc5/d6be7a7458bdbff7ee7b95c5c48e7b05da8d.pdf