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Why do woodpeckers resist head impact injury?

Head injury is a common concern around the world, but researchers suggest that woodpeckers may have an answer for minimizing such devastating injuries. As reported in the Oct. 26 issue of the online journal PLoS ONE, an analysis of woodpecker anatomy and behavior revealed some features that could potentially be put to use in designing more effective helmets.

Woodpeckers are able to peck at a tree trunk at a high speed (6-7 meters per second), resulting in intense deceleration forces upon impact, without sustaining any brain injury. To investigate the source of this protection, the researchers, led by Yubo Fan of Beihang University in Beijing and Ming Zhang of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, recorded the behavior using two synchronous high-speed video cameras, and also took scans of the birds' heads to reveal details about the micro-structural parameters such as the bone volume, thickness, and density etc.

They then constructed 3D models that allowed for further testing and measurement of the forces involved. The results showed that specific details of the cranial bones and beak, such as the relative "spongy"-ness of the bone at different places in the skull and the unequal lengths of the upper and lower parts of the beak, were crucial for preventing impact injury.

The researchers conclude that the shock absorption system is not based on a single factor, but is a result of the combined effect of a number of different morphological features. This combination may be useful in guiding design for new protective gear.




Citation: Wang L, Cheung JT-M, Pu F, Li D, Zhang M, et al. (2011) Why Do Woodpeckers Resist Head Impact Injury: A Biomechanical Investigation. PLoS ONE 6(10):e26490. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026490

Financial Disclosure: This project was funded by National Natural Science Foundation of China under the Grant 10925208, 11120101001 ( and by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University under the grant G-U624 (

Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Disclaimer: This press release refers to upcoming articles in PLoS ONE. The releases have been provided by the article authors and/or journal staff. Any opinions expressed in these are the personal views of the contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLoS. PLoS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the release and article and your use of such information.

About PLoS ONE

PLoS ONE is the first journal of primary research from all areas of science to employ a combination of peer review and post-publication rating and commenting, to maximize the impact of every report it publishes. PLoS ONE is published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), the open-access publisher whose goal is to make the world's scientific and medical literature a public resource.

All works published in PLoS ONE are Open Access. Everything is immediately available—to read, download, redistribute, include in databases and otherwise use—without cost to anyone, anywhere, subject only to the condition that the original authors and source are properly attributed. For more information about PLoS ONE relevant to journalists, bloggers and press officers, including details of our press release process and our embargo policy, see the everyONE blog at

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