For years scientists have been trying to find out how the woodpecker avoids damaging its brain up against its skull as it slams its head into a tree at up to 20 ft/sec.
Unlike other animals like bighorn rams that butt their heads together, the woodpecker does not have a double bone in the front of the skull that acts like a shock absorber. They only have a single layer of bone. This has long intrigued scientists, so a team from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University led by Ming Shang set out to discover the woodpecker’s secrets.
They filmed a woodpecker in slow motion striking against a pressure plate to capture the details of the impact. Upon careful examination of the slow motion footage, they discovered that the woodpecker turns its head just enough to lessen the effects of a direct impact.
In addition to the slow motion studies, they also used computer thermal tomography of the skulls of woodpeckers. This study revealed that there is a slight difference in the length of the upper and lower beaks. The amount of force created at the tip of the beak is greater than the force that is transmitted to the bones of the skull. It was determined that the difference in beak length served to reduce the force of impact.
They also used a scanning electron microscope to examine the bones of the skull. Under the details of the microscope it was revealed that the bones in the front of the skull have what they described as a ‘spongy’ structure in key locations. These spongy pockets are strategically placed so as to absorb some of the shock force.
The brain of the woodpecker is also shaped in such a way as to minimize the possibility of brain damage. Instead of being longer front to back like the human brain, the woodpecker’s brain is longer up and down, thus reducing the impact surface and subsequent shock force.
If you have ever watched any kind of crime show or forensic program that involved someone being strangled, you probably heard reference to the hyoid bone. In humans, this is a small horseshoe shaped bone that lies just over the Adam’s apple. It is not connected to any other bone and is fairly fragile. The hyoid is so thin that it is easily broken when someone is manually strangled.
In the case of the woodpecker, the hyoid bone is much different. According to the report I read the woodpecker’s hyoid acts like a safety belt and was described as:
Starting at the underside of the birds’ beaks, it makes a full loop through their nostrils, under and around the back of their skulls, over the top and meeting again before the forehead.
Other scientists are now looking at the design features of the woodpecker’s skull to see if it will help them create more efficient safety helmets for sports, and for bicyclists and motorcyclists. I always have to smile when scientists spend so much effort and intelligence trying to duplicate what they believe happened by chance in nature.
What I found confusing in the report that I read was they attributed the woodpecker’s special features to only three things: the hyoid bone, the difference in length between upper and lower beaks and the spongy structures of the bones of the skull.
However, when as I read their report, I counted five design features not three. To their list you have to add the way the woodpecker turns its head at impact and the shape of the brain.
When you add all of these features together, you get an extremely complex set of design features that all have to be in place in order for the woodpecker to avoid turning its brain into mush as it pecks against tree after tree. If they evolved one feature at a time, the woodpecker would never have survived long enough to pass its traits on to subsequent generations.
When talking about the special design features of the woodpecker’s skull, you also have to consider their tongue and how it sets in their head. The woodpecker has a very long sticky tongue that is far too long to fit in its bill. They use these long sticky tongues to pull insects out of the holes they drill into the trees.
So if the tongues are too long to fit into the bill, where does it go?
The tongue is pulled into a muscular sheath that extends under the scalp, around the head and then back into the right nostril. I have yet to see an evolutionary explanation for this weird feature.
Add the special design features listed above to the weird design of the tongue and you have far too many unique features that all needed to be in place for the woodpecker to survive. So the next time you see or hear a woodpecker hammering away at a nearby tree, take the opportunity to share its unique designs with those with you. Explain to them that the only possible explanation for the woodpecker is our all-knowing Creator God.
Palmer, Jason, How woodpeckers avoid head injury, BBC News, Oct. 27, 2011.
Read more at http://creationrevolution.com/scientists-discover-design-features-of-woodpecker-pecking/#f7tW1TdAfzoOuBTo.99