Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Rats use their whiskers in a similar way to how humans use their hands and fingers

Date:
July 7, 2014
Source:
University of Sheffield
Summary:
The way rats use their whiskers is more similar to how humans use their hands and fingers than previously thought, new research has found. Rats deliberately change how they sense their environment using their facial whiskers depending on whether the environment is novel, if there is a risk of collision and whether or not they can see where they are going.

The way rats use their whiskers is more similar to how humans use their hands and fingers than previously thought, new research from the University of Sheffield has found.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Sheffield

The way rats use their whiskers is more similar to how humans use their hands and fingers than previously thought, new research from the University of Sheffield has found.

Related Articles


Rats deliberately change how they sense their environment using their facial whiskers depending on whether the environment is novel, if there is a risk of collision and whether or not they can see where they are going.

Exploring rats move their long facial whiskers back and forth continuously while they are moving -- a behaviour called "whisking."

Scientists have known for a long time that movement of the whiskers provides these animals with a sense of touch that allows them to move around easily in the dark.

However, until now they did not know to what extent animals were able to deliberately control their whisker movement.

Academics from the Active Touch Laboratory in the University's Department of Psychology used high-speed videography to study animals that had been trained over several days to run circuits for food.

By putting them in different scenarios -- including putting unexpected obstacles in their way and removing visual cues -- the team discovered strong evidence the creatures moved their whiskers in a purposeful way to safely navigate the course.

The study found that as animals got used to their environment, they moved quicker and altered their facial whisker movements -- switching from broad exploratory whisker sweeps directed at nearby surfaces, such as the floor, to pushing their whisker forwards in order to detect obstacles and avoid collisions.

In environments where they were more likely to collide with objects, and without access to visual cues, animals moved more slowly but pushed their whiskers forward further. This suggests that they were aware on the increased risk of collisions and were acting more cautiously accordingly.

Professor Tony Prescott, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield, said: "A person moving around in the dark would likely use their hand and fingers to detect objects and obstacles in order to avoid banging into things. In a familiar environment, such as their own home, they might move faster pushing their hands out in front of them in case of unexpected collisions.

"This new research show that rats do much the same thing but using their facial whiskers. That is, they purposefully use their whisker to detect nearby objects and surfaces when moving slowly in unfamiliar environments, and push them out in front of themselves, to avoid collisions, when the environment is familiar and they want to move more quickly.

"All mammals except humans use facial whiskers as touch sensors. In humans we seem to have replaced this sense, in part, by being able to use our hand and fingers to feel our way.

"The rat puts its whiskers where it thinks it will get the most useful information, just as we do with our fingertips."

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYZw9VBicoI


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. Kendra Arkley, Robyn A. Grant, Ben Mitchinson, Tony J. Prescott. Strategy Change in Vibrissal Active Sensing during Rat Locomotion. Current Biology, 2014; 24 (13): 1507 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.05.036

Cite This Page:

University of Sheffield. "Rats use their whiskers in a similar way to how humans use their hands and fingers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140707141652.htm>.
University of Sheffield. (2014, July 7). Rats use their whiskers in a similar way to how humans use their hands and fingers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 27, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140707141652.htm
University of Sheffield. "Rats use their whiskers in a similar way to how humans use their hands and fingers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140707141652.htm (accessed March 27, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, March 27, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Lioness Has Rare Five-Cub Litter

Raw: Lioness Has Rare Five-Cub Litter

AP (Mar. 27, 2015) — A lioness in Pakistan has given birth to five cubs, twice the usual size of a litter. Queen gave birth to two other cubs just nine months ago. (March 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 26, 2015) — Using motion tracking technology, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) are trying to establish an optimum horse riding style to train junior jockeys, as well as enhance safety, health and well-being of both racehorses and jockeys. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bear Cubs Tumble for the Media

Bear Cubs Tumble for the Media

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Mar. 26, 2015) — Two Andean bear cubs are unveiled at the U.S. National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Alicia Powell reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Botswana Talks to End Illegal Wildlife Trade

Botswana Talks to End Illegal Wildlife Trade

AFP (Mar. 25, 2015) — Experts are gathering in Botswana to try to end the illegal wildlife trade that is decimating populations of elephants, rhinos and other threatened species. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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