Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Whiskers marked milestone in evolution of mammals from reptiles

Date:
November 15, 2011
Source:
University of Sheffield
Summary:
New research comparing rats and mice with their distance relatives the marsupial, suggests that moveable whiskers were an important milestone in the evolution of mammals from reptiles.

Young white rat.
Credit: © Africa Studio / Fotolia

Research from the University of Sheffield comparing rats and mice with their distance relatives the marsupial, suggests that moveable whiskers were an important milestone in the evolution of mammals from reptiles.

Using high-speed digital video recording and automatic tracking, the research team, which was led by Professor Tony Prescott from the University΄s Department of Psychology, have shed light on how rodents such as mice and rats move their whiskers back-and-forth at high speed and in varying ways to actively sense the environment around them in a behaviour known as whisking. Whisking allows mice or rats to accurately determine the position, shape and texture of objects, make rapid and accurate decisions about objects, and then use the information to build environmental maps.

When running in a straight line, rats and mice move their whiskers back-and-forth the same amount on both sides. However when turning, they bias their whisker movements in the direction of the turn, and when the whiskers on one side of the head contact an object, those on the opposite side sweep round to gather more information. These active sensing strategies boost the information gained by the whiskers helping the animals to better understand their world through touch.

In their latest research, the team have shown that whisking like that of rodents, using these active sensing strategies, is also seen in a small South American marsupial -- the grey short-tailed opossum. This animal has many similarities to an early mammal that would have lived more than 125 million years ago; that is, around the same time that the evolutionary lines leading to modern rodents and marsupials diverged.

This evidence suggests that some of the first mammals may also have whisked like a modern mouse or rat, and that the appearance of moveable whiskers was pivotal in the evolution of mammals from reptiles. The research is published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on 12 November 2011 and will also be presented on the same day at the Society for Neuroscience conference.

The earliest mammals were nocturnal, and tree-living. In order to successfully move around and thrive in this challenging environment these animals needed to effectively integrate information from multiple senses -- sight, sound, smell, and touch. Facial whiskers provided mammals with a new tactile sense not available to reptiles that could help them to get around in the dark.

In addition to continuing to investigate the similarities and differences between rodents and marsupials, the team is also using these insights from biological whisker sensing to develop animal-like robots that can use artificial whiskers to navigate without vision. These robots could have applications in search-and-rescue, particularly in environments, such as disaster sites, where vision is compromised by smoke or dust.

Professor Tony Prescott said: "This latest research suggests that alongside becoming warm-blooded, giving birth to live young, and having an enlarged brain, the emergence of a new tactile sense based on moveable facial whiskers was an important step along the evolutionary path to modern mammals. Although humans no longer have moveable whiskers they were a critical feature of our early mammalian ancestors."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Sheffield. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. B. Mitchinson, R. A. Grant, K. Arkley, V. Rankov, I. Perkon, T. J. Prescott. Active vibrissal sensing in rodents and marsupials. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2011; 366 (1581): 3037 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0156

Cite This Page:

University of Sheffield. "Whiskers marked milestone in evolution of mammals from reptiles." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 November 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111110125949.htm>.
University of Sheffield. (2011, November 15). Whiskers marked milestone in evolution of mammals from reptiles. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111110125949.htm
University of Sheffield. "Whiskers marked milestone in evolution of mammals from reptiles." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111110125949.htm (accessed September 19, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, September 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) — Considered a "national heritage" in Belgium, chocolate now has a new museum in Brussels. In a former chocolate factory, visitors to the permanent exhibition spaces, workshops and tastings can discover derivatives of the cocoa bean. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) — The study found elderly people are much more likely to become susceptible to infection than younger adults going though a similar situation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

AP (Sep. 19, 2014) — A federal jury has convicted three people in connection with an outbreak of salmonella poisoning five years ago that sickened hundreds of people and was linked to a number of deaths. (Sept. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) — Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins