Everyone knows that cats are well oriented in the dark. But contrary to popular belief, this is not due to the ability to see, but to the ability to feel. And the main role in this is played by the mustache. The mustache, or rather, the vibrissa (from lat. Vibro wriggle, hesitate) is not only an attribute and decoration of a cat's muzzle, but also the main organ of touch.
A kind of receptor, modified in a long process of evolution. Vibrissas give the animal all the necessary information about the world, help navigate in the dark, hunt, notice the smallest changes in the environment and even feel the change in atmospheric pressure. Not without reason, a lot of folk signs associated with cats.
How many mustaches do cats have?
Vibrissa is not only on the face, as many believe. The most expressive and sensitive, really located on the pads above the upper lip. Shorter, located above the eyes, on the chin and in the cheeks. And less sensitive, but irreplaceable during hunting, hairs are on the tail and legs.
The difference between a mustache and hair
Feline mustache, although they are the closest relatives of the hair, but have many anatomical and functional differences.
The core of the vibrissa, its outer part, is primarily distinguished by its length and stiffness, compared to other hair. The root of the sensitive antennae is located in the surface layer of the skin, in the follicle. It is here that the fun begins.
Vibrissae are well supplied with blood, their root is located directly in the blood bubble, the so-called sinus and is surrounded by mechanoreceptors and tens of thousands of nerve endings that capture the slightest movement of the hair and transmit information to the brain. Where, it is worth saying, each vibrissa has its own place. Stirring the mustache, allows the coordinated work of striated muscles.
From whiskers straight to the brain: how do they work?
Interestingly, the information that comes from the sensitive mustache and from the eyes goes through one channel - the trigeminal nerve.
This allows the brain to summarize the signals to process them and create a three-dimensional picture of the world. Depending on the lighting, the pupil tends to expand or contract. In complete darkness, it is maximally expanded, that is, it is difficult to focus on nearby objects. Mechanoreceptors, which are located at the base of the mustache, do not need anything, they only capture the vibration of the hair from air currents. This allows you to determine the location and distance to the subject and while avoiding obstacles even in complete darkness.
The very first hairs that are laid in kittens in the womb are vibrissa.
As we know, since the school course in physics, the air not only never stands still, but also changes its direction when faced with an object. Sensitive vibrissae are able to recreate a clear picture of the environment based on data on air movement. For this reason, it is impossible to approach a cat unnoticed.
She may not see you, not hear you, but she picks up the reflected air stream. The only way to catch an animal by surprise, to approach from the leeward side.
Vibrisses in cats in the wild
By its nature, a cat is, first of all, an excellent hunter, as they say, in her blood. And here an important role is played by a mustache. Thanks to them, a cat can close its eyes at the right time to protect them from a branch or blade of grass, making its way through thickets and bushes. And then continue the hunt without taking his eyes off the victim. When a prey is caught, a predator holds it in its teeth out of sight. At this point, only an elongated mustache helps to assess the situation and control the victim's behavior.
Confident cat jumps are made exclusively thanks to vibrissa. By moving them, the cat determines the direction and speed of the wind, this allows her to adjust the strength of the push and the position of the body in the jump.
Erased or broken off vibrissae are restored regardless of molting. This once again underlines their incredibly important role in the life of a cat.
On the entire coat you can see especially long and stiffer hairs. They are much softer and do not play such a significant role as a mustache, but they also have a certain sensitivity. This hair helps the cat to determine the nature of the touch and distinguish between dangerous and pleasant contacts.
When meeting a cat, you can easily determine its relationship to you. Interest, curiosity and friendliness, if the mustache is directed forward. But if the animal presses them to the face, then stroking is better to wait, the cat is aggressive. The movement and location of the mustache is a kind of "sign language" of these animals.
Cat Whisker Damage: Implications
Feline mustache (vibrissa) is a unique navigation system, damage to which leads to difficulties in orientation.
An animal with a damaged or broken mustache can run into obstacles, and an inability to close its eyes or to design a jump can lead to disastrous consequences. There are difficulties in correctly assessing the size of the hole, the cat can even get stuck. Therefore, with severe damage to vibrissae, it is recommended that the animal be kept at home for several months and not be at risk of injury.
Why does mom cat gnaw off kittens mustache?
Sometimes you can watch how a mother cat gnaws at the little kittens. Why this happens is still not known for certain. Some experts suggest that in this way, the cat tries to protect its children from excessive curiosity and leaving the nest too early. After 5-6 months, when the tendrils grow back, the kitten will be able to fully explore the world.
But what about bald cats?
Many will ask, but what about the sphinxes? Indeed, in this hairless breed, vibrissae are most often completely absent or represented by small curled tendrils. But what is interesting, while the animals navigate and hunt no worse than the owners of a luxurious mustache. Will this cat's riddle be solved once, time will tell.
Video review of why cats need a mustache (vibrissa)?
- What are vibrissae?
- How do they work?
- Vibrissas in other animals