October 2, 2012

Animal Head-Bangers

One of my favorite authors, Simon Winchester, excerpts his new book in The New York Times’ Science section today, answering a question we all might have asked in passing: How can those animals that slam their heads into each other keep from having the worst headaches or even brain damage?

The answer? I’ll let Winchester explain:

The brains of most animals that are prone to head banging — these include deer and other antlered mammals, as well as various birds — are relatively small and (unlike a human’s) smooth-surfaced; and they’re bathed in only small amounts of cerebrospinal fluid, leaving little room for the brain to move and be shocked by the sudden decelerations and accelerations of their weaponized heads.

Moreover, both rams and woodpeckers are scrupulous in the precise, single-direction fashion in which they smash their heads into things, whether trees or one another: The aim is such that there’s very little side-to-side torsion exerted on the brain, none of the movement that induces whiplash injury and other kinds of damage. More here

Winchester’s book, “Skulls: An Exploration of Alan Dudley’s Curious Collection,” will be released Oct. 9 and is, no doubt, filled with his usual amount of well-written, fascinating information.

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