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Word of the Week: Rostrum
November 06, 2019 by Haya Aldoori

Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Hairy woodpecker by Andrew Yee

Rostrum [ROS-truhm] (zoology noun): A beak-like or snout-like projection, like that of a crocodile, a dolphin, or the beak of a bird.

When we think of animals with an impressive rostrum, one that might come to mind is a woodpecker! They are perhaps best known for using their strong and sturdy beaks (or rostra) to pick and peck at tree bark in search of food.

With their heads experiencing lots of rapid and repeated powerful impacts on tree trunks, how do they not suffer severe brain injuries or get concussions? There are a couple of adaptations which support them with this. The first one is that they have an enlarged brain case, and a specialized rostrum and skull, which can redirect pressure away from their heads. A second one, which might be the wackiest of them all, is that woodpeckers will use their incredibly long tongues and wrap it around the back of their heads, for storage in an elongated combination of tongue bones and soft tissue, known as the hyoid apparatus. When they do this, the muscles in their tongues end up acting as a helmet or shock absorber, which insulates their skulls from any severe brain damage.

Some woodpeckers that you might see in High Park this Fall, and even in the Winter, include Downy woodpeckers, Hairy woodpeckers, and Red-Bellied woodpeckers. Keep and eye out for them on your next visit!

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