Volume 3, Issue 5 (May, 1999)


Welcome to the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter.

Here is what you will find in this issue:

1. What's New on the Neuroscience for Kids Web Pages
2. The Neuroscience for Kids Page of the Month
3. Why Don't Woodpeckers Have Brain Damage?
4. Attack of the Poisonous Centipede
5. Book Reviews
6. Media Alert
7. Treasure Trove of Brain Trivia
8. What's Coming Up In Future Issues
9. How to Stop Your Subscription


Neuroscience for Kids had several new additions in April. Here are some of them:

A. April Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived
B. The Brain in Advertising
C. Sleep Deprivation in the US
D. Face Recognition Game
E. May and June NeuroCalendars
F. Interactive Quiz on Tourette Syndrome and Schizophrenia
G. The Case of the Missing Brain
H. Drug Abuse Crossword Puzzle

In April, 42 new figures were added and 75 pages were modified.



The Neuroscience for Kids "Page of the Month" for May is "The Sheep Brain Dissection Guide" at: (site not working)

Dr. Timothy Cannon and his colleagues in the Department of Psychology at the University of Scranton have created a manual to assist you with a sheep brain dissection. Follow along as this web page helps you explore the internal and external anatomy of the sheep brain. The guide includes many photographs and a glossary that defines different parts of the brain. You can even test yourself by turning off the labels that point to different structures.

Even if you do not have a sheep brain to work with, you can use this guide as a "virtual" brain to learn neuroanatomy and to become familiar with neuroscience vocabulary words.



They spend their days pounding their heads against trees looking for insects and building nests. No, I am not talking about teachers. I am talking about woodpeckers. Peck, peck, peck, peck. That's what woodpeckers do, hundreds of times a day. With all of this head banging, it is surprising that woodpeckers aren't wandering around dazed and confused. It has been estimated that these birds hit their beaks against trees at speeds of about 16 miles per hour. That's like running face-first into a wall!

The woodpecker may be protected from brain damage by its unique head anatomy as well as by the way it pecks. First, the woodpecker has a very small subarachnoid space. The subarachnoid space is located between the brain and skull and holds cerebrospinal fluid. Because the woodpecker has very little cerebrospinal fluid, its brain is much closer to the skull than in other animals. Second, the woodpecker brain is packed tightly in the skull by spongy bone. Third, the woodpecker head has two features that may serve as "shock absorbers" during pecking: 1) the beak is held in place by powerful muscles and 2) the tongue muscle extends around the back to the skull, over on top of the head and finally inserts into the base of the beak. This arrangement of the tongue muscle is a bit like a sling and may reduce the shock of each beak-to-tree impact.

High-speed films of woodpeckers have revealed that these birds peck in a straight line, perpendicular to the tree. There is almost no rotation of the head. This method of pecking - without any head rotation - apparently reduces the possibility of brain damage. These films also show that the woodpecker closes its eyes just before its beak hits a tree. This probably protects the woodpecker's eyes from flying wood chips.

Although there is very little research into how a woodpecker is protected from frequent and intense head pounding, future studies of woodpecker anatomy and behavior may provide ways to improve helmet design for people to withstand head impacts for increased safety.

May et al. Woodpecker drilling behavior. Arch. Neurol. 36:370-373, 1979.
May et al. Woodpeckers and head injury. Lancet 1:454-455, 1976.



Last month my father and mother visited the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui. I phoned them on their return to the mainland to ask how they enjoyed their trip. My Dad informed me that he had an unfortunate encounter with an "enormous" poisonous centipede. In fact, he was bitten on the hand by it! I asked him for more details and thought that readers of this newsletter would be interested in what happened. Here is his story:

"It was 12:30 a.m. in Maui. I was sound asleep. Suddenly, I leaped out of bed clutching my left hand and screaming in excruciating pain. I was confused. What had caused this pain? My wife woke up alarmed, not knowing what had happened. I continued to scream, "My hand! My hand!" My wife, concerned with my fate, awoke other members of the household. All the lights in the house were turned on. I looked at my hand...within 15 minutes it had swelled to almost twice its size. I could not bend my fingers. Gradually, the swelling extended to my wrist and arm.

Harry, my son-in-law, upon looking at my hand said, "You were bitten by a centipede and it must be in the bed." He shook all the bedding and suddenly a giant centipede, six inches long was on the floor darting like a streak of black lightning. Harry cornered it and after much effort, killed it.

In the meantime I struggled with the pain. I was rushed to the emergency room where I was given medication for the swelling and pain and antibiotics to prevent infection. There was concern that the joints in my fingers would be affected. There was little sleep for me for the remainder of the night and for days afterwards. Every night I would shake out the bedding and it was with great trepidation that I would get into the bed.

The swelling of my hand and arm lasted one week. Even three weeks after the attack, the area of my hand that was bitten is itchy and sore. These sensations are still with me as constant reminders of a night I will never forget."

When my Dad told me this story, my first thoughts were for his health and well-being. However, to be honest with you, my second thoughts (not too far behind my first thoughts) were, "Cool, centipede poison! I wonder what kind of poison could cause such pain. A neurotoxin?"

I believe the creature that "attacked" my Dad was a large centipede with the scientific name "Scolopendra subspinipes." According to G.M. Nishida and J.M. Tenorio in their book "What Bit Me? Identifying Hawai'i's Stinging and Biting Insects and their Kin," the Scolopendra subspinipes is the only centipede in Hawaii that regularly causes problems in people. The adult centipede can reach lengths greater than 6 inches and as my Dad said, it can move very quickly.

As a graduate student, I took classes that discussed the effects of various neurotoxins such as those from the black widow spider, rattlesnake, pufferfish and scorpion. These toxins have been extremely valuable to neuroscientists who have used these poisons to investigate how neurons function. However, I have never heard of an experiment that has used centipede toxin.

Although very little is known about centipede toxin, I have been able to uncover a few interesting facts about centipedes and their poison. First, centipede toxin contains chemicals that dissolve proteins and other chemicals that are toxic to the heart. Second, the toxin contains two chemicals that can cause pain: serotonin and histamine. Third, a centipede does not deliver the poison with its teeth or jaws. Rather, the structures that "bite" are actually the modified first legs of the centipede. These legs are called "maxillipedes." A venom gland lies near the base of the maxillipedes so that once the centipede inserts its maxillipedes into the skin of its victim, the venom flows down into the wound.

Although it is unfortunate that my Dad was bitten by a centipede, his experience has taught me another fascinating fact about nature and the nervous system. And my Dad has a great story to tell too.


5. BOOK REVIEWS (by Ms. Lynne Bleeker, Middle School Science Teacher/Consultant)

"Why Do I Laugh or Cry? And Other Questions About The Nervous System" by Sharon Cromwell (Bodywise series) 24 pages, Rigby Interactive Library, Des Plaines, Illinois, 1998 157572161-9

This book is an excellent introduction to the nervous system for students in early elementary grades. Each two-page section features an interesting question (such as "Why does my face feel hot and turn a darker color when I'm embarrassed?"), a simple but accurate answer, a photograph of a child in middle elementary years illustrating the key idea and a health fact related to the question. Boys and girls of various cultural backgrounds are shown in the photographs. Three ideas for experiments related to the nervous system are described at the end of the book: short-term versus long-term memory, smells, and dreams. An index, a three-item glossary and five suggestions under "More Books to Read" are also included. I shared the book with my niece, a 3rd grader with good reading ability. She enjoyed the book and felt that most of her classmates could read it easily and learn a lot from it. She especially liked the health facts. I highly recommend this book for any elementary school library.

"How Do We Think?" by Carol Ballard (How Your Body Works series), 32 pages Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers, Austin Texas, 1998 0-8172-4740-8

This book is full of neuroscience-related information written at a middle-elementary school reading level. Sample topics include: "What is the Brain Made Of?" and "Awake and Asleep." There are good photographs of people of all ages including a boy with cerebral palsy and a nice electron micrograph of a neuron. The book also features attractive cartoon drawings including one of a Stegosaurus (which had two "brains," one in the head and one in the tail). There is more information in this book than in "Why Do I Laugh or Cry?"; this is reflected in the 13-item glossary. There is also a full-page index and a list of four suggested books to read. My niece and I agreed that the experiment idea "How Quick Are You?" sounded like a lot of fun. We both felt that "Why Do I Laugh or Cry?" was actually more interesting to read overall, probably because of the question-and-answer format which made it feel less like a textbook. However, "How Do We Think?" is still a very good book and would be an excellent addition to an elementary school library or classroom.



A. "Exploring Your Brain" with Garrick Utley is a public television series funded by the Charles A. Dana Foundation. In March 1999, a new program called "Stress, Trauma and the Brain" began airing around the US. The program will still be shown in May, so check your local listings for the time and channel in your city.

B. "New Nerve Cells for the Adult Brain" by G. Kempermann and F. H. Gage in the May 1999 issue of Scientific American. This article discusses the clinical importance of the recent research that shows the growth of new neurons in adult human brains.



A. In 1997, 41,967 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes; 16,189 fatalities were alcohol-related. This represents an average of one alcohol-related fatality every 32 minutes. (Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.)

B. In the United States, one third of all adults complain about sleep problems. (Source: Consumer Health USA, by Alan M. Rees, Phoenix, Oryx Press, 1995.)

C. Each eye of a dragonfly has about 30,000 lenses.

D. A literature search ("PubMed") using the words "brain" and "1998" shows that 35,286 research papers were published in 1998.

E. The brain of an elephant weighs about 6 kg (13 lb). An adult human brain weighs about 1.4 kg (3 lb).



A. What's new to the pages. I will let you know what new features have been added in May.
B. A new Neuroscience for Kids "Page of the Month."
C. Some of the pages I am currently working on are:
A Virtual Neuroscience Laboratory
AVI "movies"
Neurological and Mental Disorders


To remove yourself from this mailing list and stop your subscription to the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter, send e-mail to Dr. Eric H. Chudler at:


Your comments and suggestions about this newsletter and the "Neuroscience for Kids" web site are always welcome. If there are any special topics that you would like to see on the web site, just let me know.


Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D.

"Neuroscience for Kids" is supported by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Center of Research Resources.