You are watching: Can owls turn their head 360 degrees
But just how do they do it without severing their arteries or staying clear of blood from getting to the brain? an illustrator and a physician at the Johns Hopkins University institution of medication teamed up to find out.
"Until now, mind imaging specialists favor me who attend to human injuries resulted in by trauma come arteries in the head and also neck have always been puzzled as to why rapid, twisting head movements did not leave hundreds of owls lied dead on the forest floor indigenous stroke," claimed study writer Dr. Philippe Gailloud, in a statement native the university.
If human beings tried to revolve our top so promptly or far, we"d tear the lining of our arteries, i beg your pardon would reason clots to form and lead to a punch (besides also breaking ours necks), that added. "The carotid and also vertebral arteries in the neck that most animals — consisting of owls and also humans — are very fragile and also highly prone to also minor tears of the ship lining."
Looking within owls
To gain a glimpse the the owl"s blood vessels when their necks to be turning, the duo injected dye right into the blood ship of a dozen dead owls and also used a CT scan to visualize the shimmering fluid spreading throughout the birds" arteries prefer blood, claimed Fabian de Kok-Mercado, that performed the job-related while getting a master"s in medical illustration at Johns Hopkins. (He is currently an illustrator at the Howard Hughes medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md.) The researchers then twisted the dead owls" top to see what happened.
After producing the CT scan images, the researchers injected a plastic-like substance right into the veins that dead snowy, barred and good horned owls and dissected the animals, drawing the routes and also locations of the vessels.
Fabian de Kok-Mercado (left) and Dr. Philippe Gailloud provide a CT scan come a dead owl come learn exactly how its blood vessels resist the rapid, up-to-270-degree turns their heads make. (Image credit: Fabian de Kok-Mercado and Dr. Philippe Gailloud)
They uncovered a variety of previously undiscovered and unique traits, de Kok-Mercado told OurAmazingPlanet. For one, the owls" neck bones, or vertebrae, contain holes that are much bigger than those discovered in other birds or humans. In humans, the hole in the vertebra is about the exact same size as the artery, however in owls the hole is about 10 times larger than the artery, according to the study, released today (Jan. 31) in the journal Science. This holes, or canals, likely host air sacks meant to cushion the twisting activity of the head, de Kok-Mercado said.
"We also noticed ideal away that these canals were absent in the bottom 2 vertebra of the neck," de Kok-Mercado said. This provides the cord-like vessels part slack as soon as the bird twisted its head.
The huge holes and "slack" in ~ the bottom the the neck aid explain why the vessels don"t break. Yet they don"t describe why the it is provided of blood isn"t reduced off when an owl turns its head — through so much twisting, the vessels room bound to come to be partially blocked.
Blood to the brain
The team noticed that the vertebral artery enlarges slightly together it philosophies the brain, i beg your pardon is unusual and not checked out in many other pets (like the tribe of a tree, ship generally gain smaller as they acquire farther from the heart). The authors think that these enlarged areas may role as reservoirs in i m sorry blood can pool, so that the mind has extra blood to work-related with together the head swivels around, de Kok-Mercado said.
The blood vessels close to the brain are additionally highly connected. A vessel called the patent trigeminal artery associate the front and also the ago of the owl"s brain, which help supply the organ with as much blood as possible.
Why execute owls should crane your necks come such severe degree? It"s due to the fact that their eyes are tubular, built nearly like telescopes, giving them amazing vision, de Kok-Mercado said. However unlike humans, who have about spherical eyes, owls cannot relocate them around easily, therefore they have to rotate your heads.
The detect is just one more example of just how the birds room perfectly adapted to fit their environment, enabling them come see despite having relatively fixed eyes.
"I hope it gives people more of an evaluation of the life ~ above this planet," de Kok-Mercado said.
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