Scientist Shares Little-Known Facts About Animal Whiskers

All animals are adorable, and besides their furriness, one of the things that makes them irresistibly cute is their whiskers.

The strange little antenna-like things just so happen to round out the impossible cuteness of their faces. But besides making them adorable, whiskers actually have a very important function for animals.

Photo: Flickr/Ian Barbour License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

According to BBC Ideas, Dr. Robyn Grant of the Manchester Metropolitan University shares there are several important factors to animal whiskers. Dr. Grant shared that while we might be most familiar with cat whiskers, there can actually be a variety of types of whiskers designed to help the animals navigate their environment.

Dr. Grant said, “Whiskers are very much like human fingertips. Lots of animals can move their whiskers and then some animals engage in what is called whisking. So this is cyclic forward and backward movement that the animals make with their whiskers. And we might think of this as scanning. So, when we walk into a room, we might be looking around everywhere, trying to see all around us, and that’s what these guys are doing.”

Photo: Flickr/Michael Himbeault License: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Interestingly enough, according to Grant, we humans may have once upon a time had whiskers of our own. Her reasoning? Humans show certain physiological traits that point towards it being a possibility.

Dr. Grant then adds, “Humans are really quite unusual to not have whiskers. But we do still have these whisker holes where our whiskers would have been and, also, we even have some remnants of muscles, similar to what we see in animals with whiskers.”

Quite interesting to think about, don’t you think? Besides this conversation starter, Dr. Grant had some other whisker fun facts to share, such as the animal with the longest whiskers is the porcupine. The animal that has the fastest-moving whiskers is the field mouse. As for the animals with the most sensitive whiskers, those would be sea-dwelling mammals.

Photo: Flickr/Peter Halling Hilborg License: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

She then stated, “The most sensitive whiskers are in aquatic mammals. Lots of seals will have kind of just under 2,000 nerve fibre surrounding all of those whiskers in the follicle and their whiskers are so sensitive they can do this amazing thing which is called hydrodynamic sensing. So, as a fish swims through the water, it leaves behind a wake, a trail of water movement, and the seals are able to detect this. And they use only their whiskers for this.”

Check out the video down below:

Did you already know about animals’ whiskers? Let us know!

People, Pets & Planet

Help where it’s needed most at GreaterGood for free!