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Why do animals have whiskers?
Question Date: 2013-02-14
Answer 1:

Mammals all have hair, even though whales only have it before they’re born. Whiskers are a special type of hair. They are sensory, which means that animals get information about their environment from them. Whiskers are very useful at feeling air and water currents.

Land animals that hunt at night or underground tend to have long whiskers these can tell them where things are. For example, a mouse might be able to feel its way in the darkness. As a mouse runs by, a cat might feel the current of air and use that to pounce on the mouse.

Some aquatic (water) mammals have very long, stiff whiskers that help them find fish by feeling water currents. If you see sea lions and seals on land, you might not notice their whiskers because they fold them flat, but if you see them in a pool, you can see their whiskers flared out. This helps them hunt in deeper water, where there’s no light to allow them to see their prey.

Here’s a site with some great photos of their whiskers: sea lion.

Some other animals have things that look like whiskers, but they aren’t really hairs. In catfish, they’re called barbels. Catfish live at the bottom of muddy rivers. Why do you think they have barbels?

Thanks for asking,

Answer 2:

Humans have five senses: sense of smell, touch, sound, taste, sight. Many animals also have these senses, and some animals have additional organs (besides eyes, nose, mouth, etc.) to sense things. Whiskers are a sensory organ that is used for the sense of touch. As whiskers are rooted deep into the skin, they have many highly sensitive nerve endings which allow them to detect small changes in the environment. Many animals that may need to get around in the dark (underground, like moles, or at night like lions) may use their whiskers to help them navigate. If you turn all the lights off in your room and try to find where you left your school book you will hold your arms straight out in the air and feel around until you feel something that feels rectangular and hard. Then you will feel the pages and your brain will confirm that you are touching your school book. But many animals need all four legs to walk and they can´t hold their front legs out to touch things in the way we do. Fortunately they have whiskers they can use to brush up against things to tell them where they are and what they are touching.

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