Owls don"t need eyes in the ago of their heads to check out what"s behind lock — they have the right to just swivel your heads every the method around. In fact, numerous owl species, such as the ban owl, can rotate their heads 270 degrees in each direction, which means they deserve to look to the left through rotating every the method to the right, or angry versa.

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But exactly how do they carry out it without severing your arteries or avoiding blood from reaching the brain? an illustrator and also a medical professional at the Johns Hopkins University school of medicine teamed increase to discover out.

"Until now, brain imaging specialists choose me who resolve human injuries led to by trauma to arteries in the head and also neck have constantly been puzzled regarding why rapid, twisting head movements did not leave countless owls lied dead top top the forest floor native stroke," said study author Dr. Philippe Gailloud, in a statement native the university.

If human beings tried to rotate our heads so quickly or far, we"d tear the lining of ours arteries, i beg your pardon would reason clots to kind and result in a punch (besides also breaking our necks), the added. "The carotid and vertebral arteries in the neck of most animals — including owls and also humans — are very fragile and also highly at risk to even minor tears the the courage lining."

Looking inside owls

To acquire a glimpse of the owl"s blood vessels once their necks to be turning, the duo injected dye right into the blood vessels of a dozen dead owls and also used a CT scan come visualize the shimmering fluid spreading transparent the birds" arteries prefer blood, claimed Fabian de Kok-Mercado, who performed the work-related while obtaining a master"s in medical illustration in ~ Johns Hopkins. (He is now an illustrator at the Howard Hughes clinical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md.) The researcher then twisted the dead owls" heads to check out what happened.

After creating the CT scan images, the researcher injected a plastic-like substance right into the veins the dead snowy, barred and an excellent horned owls and dissected the animals, drawing the routes and locations that 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 stand up to the rapid, up-to-270-degree turns their heads make. (Image credit: Fabian de Kok-Mercado and Dr. Philippe Gailloud)

They found a number of previously undiscovered and unique traits, de Kok-Mercado called OurAmazingPlanet. For one, the owls" neck bones, or vertebrae, contain holes that space much bigger than those discovered in other birds or humans. In humans, the feet in the vertebra is around the very same size together the artery, yet in owls the feet is around 10 times bigger than the artery, follow to the study, released today (Jan. 31) in the journal Science. These holes, or canals, likely host air sacks expected to cushion the twisting motion of the head, de Kok-Mercado said.

"We likewise noticed best away the these canals were lacking in the bottom 2 vertebra that the neck," de Kok-Mercado said. This gives the cord-like vessels part slack once the bird twists its head.

The large holes and "slack" at the bottom that the neck assist explain why the vessels don"t break. Yet they don"t describe why the supply of blood isn"t reduced off as soon as an owl transforms its head — with so much twisting, the vessels are bound to come to be partially blocked.

Blood come the brain

The team noticed that the vertebral artery enlarges slightly as it viewpoints the brain, which is unusual and not watched in numerous other pets (like the tribe of a tree, ship generally acquire smaller together they gain farther native the heart). The writer think the these enlarged locations may duty as reservoirs in which blood deserve to pool, so the the brain has extra blood to work with as the head swivels around, de Kok-Mercado said.

The blood vessels near the mind are likewise highly connected. A vessel referred to as the patent trigeminal artery connect the front and the earlier of the owl"s brain, which help supply the organ with as much blood as possible.

Why perform owls should crane your necks come such severe degree? It"s since their eyes are tubular, built nearly like telescopes, providing them remarkable vision, de Kok-Mercado said. Yet unlike humans, that have roughly spherical eyes, owls cannot relocate them around easily, so they have to rotate your heads.

The recognize is just an additional example of just how the birds room perfectly adapted to fit their environment, allowing them to see regardless of having relatively fixed eyes.

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"I hope it gives people an ext of an appreciation of the life ~ above this planet," de Kok-Mercado said.

This story was listed by OurAmazingPlanet, a sister website to betterworld2016.org. Reach Douglas key at dmain