Academic journal article Science and Children

Whiskers Help Animals Sense the Direction of the Wind

Academic journal article Science and Children

Whiskers Help Animals Sense the Direction of the Wind

Article excerpt

Many animals appear to have an impressive ability to follow the wind to find food, avoid predators, and connect with potential mates. New research finds that an important part of this ability lies in an animal's whiskers. The work could pave the way for the design of novel airflow measurement devices that imitate these biological sensors.

To perform the experiment that led to this discovery, researchers placed five, equally spaced fans in a semicircle around the edge of a six-foot circular table. In each trial, one of the five fans was randomly selected to blow air toward a "start-door" located on the opposite side of the table. A rat had to run from the door toward the fan blowing air and go down a rat-sized hole directly in front of that fan. Each of the five holes led to a tunnel beneath the table, where the rat was rewarded for choosing the correct fan. Cameras positioned above the table recorded the rats' performance.

After the rats had performed the task at a level of approximately 60% correct or higher for 10 days in a row, the researchers cut off the whiskers--a procedure as painless as a haircut--and looked for changes in behavior. …

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