The Loh Down On Science

Inside Owls

Satanic possession . . . in owls?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

And a physical trick straight from The Exorcist.

Owls can rotate their heads a whopping 270 degrees! That’s three-quarters of the way around!  And fast--so they can see what's going on almost everywhere around them.

Outside of horror movies, we humans can't do it. If we tried, our fragile blood vessels would strain and burst, causing stroke, and death.

So why can owls do it? Researchers from Johns Hopkins used X-rays and CT scans to get an inside peek at the birds' vasculature. Turns out, those big-eyed predators have special adaptations in the blood vessels that feed their brains.

For one, arteries in their necks swell during a head turn, allowing blood to pool. That extra blood keeps the brain working, even if an owl is looking backward. For another thing, owls have air pockets around critical blood vessels, allowing for ample stretching and moving.

That’s why when it comes to craning their necks, owls don’t give a hoot.  Well actually they do.  Anatomy story for another day.

 

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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