Hummingbirds – Brain Size Doesn’t Matter

Hummingbirds – Brain Size
Music
Ambiance: Hummingbirds DAT 01.05.29

Anthropologists like to distinguish humans from other animals, by pointing to our large brain capacity, and our ability to learn and imitate language. But new research suggest the lowly hummingbird with a brain smaller than the size of a pea may share some of our most complex abilities. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Erich Jarvis is an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology at the Duke University Medical Center. He’s comparing brain activity of hummingbirds with that of other animal species that can learn and reproduce sounds.

“Hummingbirds have taught me that brain size does not matter. They have one of the smallest brains in the world, and yet they do behaviors that are very complex, similar to humans. Dogs for instance, or cats, have much larger brains than hummingbirds. But they don’t have this ability to imitate sounds. So size does not matter, it’s the actual structures in the brain that matter.”

Comparing the underlying brain activity of a Brazilian hummingbird, the language centers of the human brain, may help medical researchers learn more about human language disorders.

“That’s been one of the more exciting parts about this research for me. Because songbirds and humans probably have similar brain pathways. It doesn’t matter if they got it from a common ancestor or they got it separately. The point of the matter is that it seems to be similar. Which means that hummingbirds, songbirds and parrots, can be used as animal models to study diseases that involve speech and language and related problems.”

If you’d like to hear about our new Pulse of the Planet CD, please visit our website at pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Hummingbirds - Brain Size Doesn't Matter

Understanding the cerebral activity of hummingbirds may lead researchers to resolve human language disorders.
Air Date:03/07/2012
Scientist:
Transcript:

Hummingbirds - Brain Size
Music
Ambiance: Hummingbirds DAT 01.05.29

Anthropologists like to distinguish humans from other animals, by pointing to our large brain capacity, and our ability to learn and imitate language. But new research suggest the lowly hummingbird with a brain smaller than the size of a pea may share some of our most complex abilities. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Erich Jarvis is an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology at the Duke University Medical Center. He's comparing brain activity of hummingbirds with that of other animal species that can learn and reproduce sounds.

"Hummingbirds have taught me that brain size does not matter. They have one of the smallest brains in the world, and yet they do behaviors that are very complex, similar to humans. Dogs for instance, or cats, have much larger brains than hummingbirds. But they don't have this ability to imitate sounds. So size does not matter, it's the actual structures in the brain that matter."

Comparing the underlying brain activity of a Brazilian hummingbird, the language centers of the human brain, may help medical researchers learn more about human language disorders.

"That's been one of the more exciting parts about this research for me. Because songbirds and humans probably have similar brain pathways. It doesn't matter if they got it from a common ancestor or they got it separately. The point of the matter is that it seems to be similar. Which means that hummingbirds, songbirds and parrots, can be used as animal models to study diseases that involve speech and language and related problems."

If you'd like to hear about our new Pulse of the Planet CD, please visit our website at pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.