Ever wonder why woodpeckers, renowned for their ability to slam their heads into wood in search of food, don’t get concussions? There are a number of logical factors at play: their brains fit snugly in their skulls so the brain itself doesn’t go careening in every direction under impact, bruising itself against the skull wall like human brains do; they are much smaller animals, so the matter of scale comes into play when considering this question (picture throwing a ball of paper and a ball of lead against a tree); and they are simply built differently, with their brains situated at a different angle in their skulls than ours are and surrounded by web-like bones to diffuse the impact.

There are many answers to this seemingly simple question of how woodpeckers avoid head injuries (I’ve linked to some more below), but my favorite rationale is that their tongues serve as an extra cushion during impact. Woodpeckers have long tongues that enable them to reach into tree cavities in search of food, but obviously they don’t hammer at wood with their tongues sticking out. They tuck their tongues along the bottom of their brains during their carpentry adventures, providing additional impact absorption potential. So woodpecker tongues help do what? Prevent concussions.

The crow-sized Pileated Woodpecker
The crow-sized Pileated Woodpecker

For a slow motion video of a woodpecker doing its thing, check out this video.

For more information about how woodpeckers avoid concussions, check out these resources:

Exploring the “G-Force:” Why Woodpeckers Don’t Get Concussions

Do Woodpeckers Get Headaches? If Not, Why Not?

The Woodpecker’s Guide to Avoiding Head Injuries

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