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‘Bungee Cord’ Nerves Help Whales Take Massive Swallows

posted: 05/05/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Bryde's whale, Eden's whale in gulf of Thailand
MarineMan/thinkstock

A 'bungee cord' nerve found in the mouth and tongue of some whales can nearly double in length, allowing them to take swallows of food and water larger than their body.

This according to researchers from The University of British Columbia, who authored a new study in Current Biology detailing their findings.

The newfound nerve is unique to rorqual whales, the largest group of baleen whales. The whales' long nerves are packaged in such a way that they unfold completely during the swallowing process and then quickly re-packed afterward (no actual stretching, which would damage the nerve, occurs).

Researchers speculate that similar structures could be found in other animals whose body parts expand rapidly, such as frogs whose throats balloon.

"This discovery underscores how little we know about even the basic anatomy of the largest animals alive in the oceans today," says UBC postdoctoral fellow Nick Pyenson. "Our findings add to the growing list of evolutionary solutions that whales evolved in response to new challenges faced in marine environments over millions of years."

Click here for more from the University of British Columbia

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