● A g-force measuring between 80 and 100 is strong enough to give you a concussion. Yet, the woodpecker sustains a g-force of about 1,200 as it drums its bill against tree bark. How does this bird perform his task, evidently without even getting a headache, much less a concussion?
Consider: Researchers have discovered four structures of the woodpecker’s head that make it shock-absorbent:
1. A strong yet flexible bill
2. A hyoid—a structure of bone and elastic tissue that wraps around the skull
3. An area of spongy bone in the skull
4. Little space for cerebral-spinal fluid between the skull and the brain
Each of these elements absorbs mechanical shock, allowing the woodpecker to strike a tree at a rate of up to 22 times per second with no injury to the brain.
Inspired by the woodpecker’s head, researchers have developed a casing that can withstand a g-force of up to 60,000. Their success may lead to, among other things, better protection for aircraft flight recorders, which currently can withstand a g-force of only about 1,000. Kim Blackburn, an engineer at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, says that what has been discovered about the woodpecker’s head provides “a fascinating example of how nature develops highly advanced structures in combination to solve what at first seems to be an impossible challenge.”
What do you think? Did the woodpecker’s shock-absorbing head come about by chance? Or was it designed?
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Redheaded woodpecker: © 2011 photolibrary.com