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What a headache!

What do California Bighorn Sheep and woodpeckers like the endangered White-headed and Lewis' Woodpeckers have in common?

They both have bubble-wrapped brains!

On the surface, these two animals couldn't look more different but both Bighorn Sheep and White-headed Woodpeckers have special skulls that protect their brains during high-impact activities, like headbutting for Bighorns and cavity excavation for woodpeckers.

In addition to flexible, impact-absorbing skulls and horns, rams are also able to slow down the flow of blood from their head back to their body. They will do this just before headbutting another ram, and this makes blood vessels in the brain expand in volume and creates a tighter fit between the brain and skull. A tighter fitting brain means less room to move around in the skull, which means a lot less concussion-causing brain shaking when they collide.

Woodpecker tongue (via

Woodpeckers also have shock-absorbing skull bones, but instead of blood vessels, the "bubble wrap" around their brain is actually their tongue! Woodpeckers have extremely long tongues in order to extract insects from crevices in tree bark. When not in use, the retracted tongue is held in a small channel of bone that wraps around their skull, called the hyoid bone. This channel of bone and tongue muscle has the additional benefit of absorbing shock waves when the birds pecks a tree and channeling them around the skull and away from the brain.

Adaptations like these help inventors and researchers develop safer protective headgear and better understand how to prevent and treat brain injuries in humans.

Interested in learning more about local wildlife? Visit our Resource library:


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