Friday, May 20, 2011


To compensate for that monstrous sea cucumber article, I'm keeping this one short and sweet. Woodpecker tongues. They aren't something most people spend time thinking about, but most people aren't reading this hideous blog either.


Woodpeckers are specialized drilling machines. Their skulls are heavily reinforced and their tiny brains are insulated against shock. But how do they get at their prey once the hole is finished? What keeps those delectable grubs and termites from crawling away as soon as they notice the giant hungry beak protruding into their nest? The answer: a prehensile, (up to) four or five inch long tongue. Unlike humans, woodpecker's tongues include cartilage and bone, not just muscle, and retract deep into the skull when not in use. They actually wrap around the brain cavity in a complex loop. These dexterous, thread-like apparatus are used to probe about in the cracks of the wood and wrap around prey to suck them back into the mouth. Some are also bristled, like a toilet brush, and most are quite sticky.

[Figure 4 (Diagram of short- (left) and long-tongued (right) woodpecker
skull and hyoid apparatus.)]
...I'm not even going to try to explain this.
So from now on, don't picture vibrant plumage or annoying cartoon laughter when you think of woodpeckers. Think of their tongues. Exceedingly long, flexible nightmare tongues.

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