Thursday, 31 May 2012

Dormice whiskers aid tree-climbing


Dormice use their whiskers to help them climb trees, researchers say.
By twitching them upwards, outwards and straight ahead up to 25 times a second, they sense where they are going, a University of Sheffield team has found.
The process, called whisking, is used by some other rodents, and by whiskered mammals including seals and walruses.
Dr Robyn Grant, from the university's Active Touch Laboratory says whisking is "a parallel sense to our sense of touch".
She says hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) use their whiskers, or vibrissae, in a similar way to how people use their eyes - scanning to recognise what is in front of them.
"Because of the uneven surface on branches, they vibrate them to find where to put their feet, as well as to work out where there's a gap and where to change branches," says Dr Grant.
Dormice are endangered in the UK and hibernate most of the year in small nests on the ground, but in the summer they live in trees.
Dr Grant says that they can also use the sensory nodes in their whisker follicles, which respond to the vibrations of their whiskers. This helps them to locate and determine the size, shape and quality of a food item, or to sense their way home.

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