Have you ever wondered what is the role of whiskers? Dr. Robyn Grant of Manchester Metropolitan University elaborated on the importance of animal whiskers. She acknowledged the familiarity of whiskers with cats, and explained that other animals have longer and even more sensitive whiskers to help them understand their surroundings.
She explained, “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.”
Due to certain physiological traits which still remains, Grant explained that it is believed that there were once a time that humans may have had whiskers. “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.”
Fun fact, Porcupines have the longest whiskers, field mice whisk the fastest, and sea-dwelling mammals have the most sensitive whiskers. Grant added, “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.”