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How do cats use their whiskers?

Cat whiskers aren’t only cute parts of their feline faces. Whiskers are sensitive sensory tools that cats use to catch prey and navigate through narrow spaces. Whiskers, also called vibrissae (from vibrio in Latin, meaning ‘to vibrate’) provide cats with information about vibrations and air currents around them. In the dark or low light, this is especially useful, but it also helps cats in up-close situations, where their eyes don’t focus as well.

In this BBC Earth clip from Cats Uncovered, a cat is filmed at 2,700 frames per second while they catch a toy. It’s an attempt to see how the cat’s whiskers move forward into an attack position.

catching a toy
“Far thicker and longer than normal hairs,” the narrator explains, “whiskers sit almost three times deeper in the skin where they attach to nerve endings, telling the cat how far each one is being bent back and how quickly.” They’re also located above a cat’s eyes, near their ears, on their chin, and on their ankles. 

cat whiskers
Many other animals have whiskers, including rats, squirrels, beavers, rabbits, deer, big cats like tigers, lions, and leopards, as well as marine mammals like seals, sea lions, and walruses. What other whiskered animals can you think of?

Watch these cat videos next:
• Why Does Your Cat’s Tongue Feel Like Sandpaper?
• Why Do Cats Meow?
• How Jun trained his cats to shake hands and ride a bike
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