Owls don"t need eyes in the earlier of their heads to watch what"s behind castle — they can just swivel your heads every the means around. In fact, plenty of owl species, such together the barred owl, have the right to rotate their heads 270 levels in each direction, which method they deserve to look to the left by rotating all the way to the right, or evil versa.

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But how do they do it there is no severing your arteries or staying clear of blood from reaching the brain? one illustrator and also a physician at the Johns Hopkins University institution of medication teamed up to discover out.

"Until now, mind imaging specialists favor me who resolve human injuries caused by trauma come arteries in the head and also neck have constantly been puzzled regarding why rapid, twisting head movements did not leave thousands of owls lied dead on the forest floor native stroke," claimed study writer Dr. Philippe Gailloud, in a statement native the university.

If humans tried to revolve our heads so rapidly or far, we"d tear the lining of ours arteries, which would reason clots to kind and lead to a punch (besides additionally breaking ours necks), that added. "The carotid and vertebral arteries in the neck that most pets — including owls and also humans — are really fragile and also highly at risk to even minor tears of the vessel lining."


Looking within owls


To get a glimpse that 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 used a CT scan come visualize the shimmering fluid spreading throughout the birds" arteries prefer blood, claimed Fabian de Kok-Mercado, who performed the work while obtaining a master"s in clinical illustration at Johns Hopkins. (He is currently an illustrator in ~ the Howard Hughes medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md.) The researcher then twisted the dead owls" heads to view what happened.

After producing the CT scan images, the researchers injected a plastic-like substance right into the veins of dead snowy, ban and great horned owls and also dissected the animals, drawing the routes and also locations of the vessels.


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Fabian de Kok-Mercado (left) and also Dr. Philippe Gailloud give a CT scan come a dead owl come learn just how its blood vessels resist the rapid, up-to-270-degree transforms their top make. (Image credit: Fabian de Kok-Mercado and Dr. Philippe Gailloud)

They discovered a variety of previously undiscovered and unique traits, de Kok-Mercado told OurAmazingPlanet. Because that one, the owls" neck bones, or vertebrae, contain feet that space much larger than those found in various other birds or humans. In humans, the hole in the vertebra is around the very same size together the artery, but in owls the hole is about 10 times larger than the artery, follow to the study, released today (Jan. 31) in the newspaper Science. This holes, or canals, likely host air sacks intended to cushion the twisting motion of the head, de Kok-Mercado said.


"We also noticed appropriate away that these canals were missing in the bottom two vertebra of the neck," de Kok-Mercado said. This provides the cord-like vessels part slack once the bird twists its head.

The huge holes and also "slack" in ~ the bottom the the neck aid explain why the ship don"t break. But they don"t explain why the it is provided of blood isn"t reduced off once an owl turns its head — v so much twisting, the vessels space bound to come to be partially blocked.

Blood to the brain

The team noticed that the vertebral artery enlarges slightly as it philosophies the brain, i m sorry is unusual and not watched in many other animals (like the trunk of a tree, ship generally get smaller together they acquire farther from the heart). The authors think that these enlarged locations may function as reservoirs in i beg your pardon blood have the right to pool, so that the mind has extra blood to work with together the head swivels around, de Kok-Mercado said.

The blood vessels close to the mind are additionally highly connected. A vessel called the patent trigeminal artery connects the front and also the back of the owl"s brain, which helps supply the body organ with as lot blood together possible.

Why execute owls must crane your necks to such severe degree? It"s due to the fact that their eyes are tubular, built practically like telescopes, providing them remarkable vision, de Kok-Mercado said. Yet unlike humans, who have approximately spherical eyes, owls cannot move them around easily, therefore they have to rotate your heads.

The finding is just one more example of just how the birds room perfectly adapted to suit their environment, allowing them to see despite having relatively fixed eyes.

"I hope it offers people more of an evaluation of the life ~ above this planet," de Kok-Mercado said.

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