Whiskers, or vibrissae, are not limited to your house cat. At home and in the wild, you can find a lot of animals with these coarse, thick, modified hair. Most of these animals have whiskers around the nostrils and lips, while others grow these hairs on their toes.
The Whiskers do not exist only to make these animals adorable. They also help the animal in vision and sensing the surroundings. In this article, we’ll look at some animals with whiskers and how they use them.
13 Examples of Animals With Whiskers
Seals are sea mammals that explore deep, dark oceans with murky waters when hunting their prey.
That’s why these beasts need extra weapons to hunt effectively in these poor visual conditions. For instance, a Harbor seal has about 50 whiskers, which are oval-shaped and have an in-and-out wavy pattern.
Surprisingly, the whiskers don’t vibrate or respond when the mammal is moving but are ready to detect movements and disturbances left by other sea users, including fish.
The antenna-like whiskers of seals can detect an animal from a distance of about 300 feet. The seal can then assess its size and swim in the direction of its prey.
2. Whiskered Auklets
Whiskered Auklet is a small, blackish sea bird that lives in the Aleutian islands of the USA and Russia.
As the name suggests, Whiskered Auklets have whiskers around their eyes. While breeding adults adorn fine, white Whiskers, their non-breeding counterparts only have a few of these hairs. That’s because, unlike other animals which use their whiskers almost daily, these sea birds only need their special tools when breeding.
The birds breed in dark cliff-side nest cavities, so the sensitive whiskers come in handy, helping the Auklets find their way effortlessly. And in summer, when the birds return to the open sea, they molt the whiskers till the next breeding phase.
All 36 members of our Canidae family, including wolves, foxes, and jackals, have whiskers, with the location and pattern of these specialized hairs varying on the animal. But generally, you can find them on the chin, above the eyes, and above the upper lip. Foxes also have whiskers on their forelimbs, standing out in their family.
The purpose of whiskers in dogs is to help them cruise their surroundings undisturbed in their daily activities. The whiskers also work hand in hand with dogs’ sense of smell to make the animals excellent hunters. Foxes use the Whiskers on their forelegs to walk through less-visibility environments such as tall grass as they provide additional sensory input.
What’s more, if you keep dogs, you can read your pet’s mood, thanks to its whiskers which it keeps upright when alert.
Rats have whiskers distributed all over their face. Long whiskers grow in rows on both sides of the nose, and others protrude from their cheeks and eyebrows. Others grow around the rat’s mouth.
The rodents use their whiskers to navigate their environment, as the sensitive hairs help them to gather information and build maps. When in unfamiliar environments, the rats can detect nearby objects and remove them from sight, thanks to the whiskers.
Rats also use whiskers while feeding to recognize what to and not to eat and as communication tools to help them find mates.
Rats are regarded as whiskers specialists, as they can move whiskers more rapidly (especially when idling) than all animals.
Rabbits are mammals that dig and live in burrows and warrens in grasslands and forests. These burrowing mammals have whiskers in different locations, including on the cheeks, mouth, nose, and above the eyes.
Like in many animals, a rabbit’s whiskers are multipurpose. First, the Whiskers help the animals navigate in their many connected tunnels underground with poor lighting conditions. During the night, the whiskers help the rabbits determine the size of the tunnels to see if they can fit in. The Whiskers above the eyes prevent fine particles from reaching the rabbits’ eyes.
All felines, including cats, lions, leopards, and cougars, have whiskers growing strategically around their faces. The most prominent whiskers grow on the upper lip in 4-5 rows, with the short ones in front. Some cats also grow whiskers on their wrists.
The function of Whiskers in cats is mainly the sense of touch. In this way, the cats can evaluate and explore the surrounding better, hunt at night, determine if they can penetrate through small openings, and know more about the nearby objects.
Whiskers also help a cat with balance. That’s why a cat will always land on its feet, regardless of how you throw. Cats also use their whiskers to communicate their emotions, messages you can grasp if you’re observant enough.
Walrus are large marine mammals that inhabit the Arctic Ocean and Northern hemisphere. An adult walrus can have about 700 smooth whiskers on its snout.
Walruses occasionally hunt for their favorite food, shellfish, in dark and murky waters with the help of their extremely sensitive whiskers. As improvised detective devices, the specialized hairs help walrus locate their prey in the dark waters.
8. Sea lions
Sea lions have the longest Whiskers of all mammals, which can grow to a length of 30 centimeters. 38 in number, these hairs grow on either side of the animal’s face.
Sea lions use their Whiskers to forage, navigate, and explore by moving them forwards and backward at will. The Whiskers are so sensitive that a sea lion can find a fish by just sweeping the hairs through the water in a single attempt before herding them towards the shallow ends for dinner.
Similar to how you use your fingertips to touch, sea lions also use their Whiskers to gather information about nearby objects. The mammals can determine size, shape and texture of objects within their environment.
Sometimes called sea cows, manatees are large, aquatic, slow-moving mammals that inhabit coastal waters and rivers. They have about 600 long, iconic whiskers around their lips to help them explore the environment.
As sensitive tools, the whiskers help make the manatees excellent hunters. By detecting vibrations in the waters, these hairs help the animals identify their targets and can even differentiate several scent trails left by their prey.
Other than hunting, manatees use their Whiskers to live marine life comfortably by detecting sudden changes in water currents and seabeds, and tidal flows.
Beavers are semiaquatic animals and the largest living rodents in the Northern Hemisphere.
Like many rodents, beavers have Whiskers on either side of the cheek which come in handy as the critters have low eyesight, and the usually dark dams and lodges that the beavers prefer do not make life easier, too.
The Whiskers help the animals feel and hear the surrounding objects and determine if they can fit through small spaces. The Whiskers also guide the critters through dark waters in dams.
11. Etruscan shrews
Also called the Etruscan pygmy shrew, the Etruscan shrew is the smallest mammal by mass, weighing about 1.8 grams on average. The tiny animal lives in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The mouth of a shrew is densely concentrated with short Whiskers, which move back and forth rapidly to gather information about the surrounding. With the Whiskers, the tiny critter can know the shape of the objects nearby, and determine their way around.
The sophisticated whiskers also help shrews efficiently hunt at night as the animal can locate, track, and get its hands on prey, thanks to the hairs’ vibration.
Another animal you can find at home, a horse has Whiskers in different locations, including around the lips, eyebrows, and chin. Distinguishable from ordinary coat hair, these hairs are modified to be long, stiffer, and thicker.
Like many animals, horses use their Whiskers to navigate their world. The hairs are super sensitive to vibration changes in the air current to inform the horse of its surroundings. It can identify food nearby and stay injury-free by detecting objects that might harm it.
What’s more, the Whiskers also double up as guiding devices as newborns can locate the teats, while adults can determine the distance of nearby objects from their faces.
Some accounts also claim the Whiskers act as the horse’s third eye, affording the animal clearer sense of its environment. That’s why it’s not okay and illegal to trim the Whiskers of horses.
Squirrels are another member of the rodent family with Whiskers. The playful rodents have four sets of whiskers below and above the eyes, others beside the nose, and under the lower jaw. They also have Whiskers on their wrists, elbows, towards the tip of the tail, and feet.
The purpose of the Whiskers in squirrels is to provide the rodents with more detailed information about their surroundings so they can navigate easily.
For instance, they can accurately determine whether an opening on the ground and trees is big enough to fit through without getting stuck. Females have a Whisker at the nipple, but its purpose is not documented.