A woodpecker bashes its head into a tree up to 20 times per second or somewhere around 12,000 times a day, give or take. Not softly, either, but at speeds of 13 to 15 miles an hour. Try that once and see if you enjoy the sensation.
I’m kidding, the impact would kill you; it’s been measured at 1,000 times the force of gravity. It doesn’t phase the woodpecker, however, because of its incredible, amazing tongue. The entire skull, in fact, is a flipping marvel of engineering.
For starters, their wee noggins sit atop a neck as powerful as any bodybuilder’s and the thick neck muscles efficiently disperse the force of impact throughout the body. Then, too, their brains are surrounded by plate-like, spongy bone in a snug-fitting cranium that keeps the old gray matter from sloshing around. Still another nice touch is the addition of a third inner eyelid to keep their eyes from popping out.
But a woodpecker’s tongue, which can extend four inches (three times longer than their beak), is the true wonder. When it’s not digging bugs and larvae out of deep crevices in wood and bark, it retracts into the skull and wraps around the brain to operate as a cushion. It’s essentially an airbag.
See why I’m envious?
Had I been equipped with a similar tongue, I’d be a different person today. Why, I might even be sensible, totally rational. You see, I’ve bashed my head against steering wheels, walls, stairs, roadways, sidewalks, doors, door frames, playground equipment; I’ve careened off the hoods of cars, floors, furniture, major appliances, small appliances, bathtubs, dumpsters, swingsets, dashboards. I’ve gotten beaned by nearly everything on earth — except farm animals.
You know what the astounding part is, though? Not one of my spectacular, hurtling, kamikaze-like crashes ever showed up on YouTube or America’s Funniest Home Videos. How is that possible?
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