Most animals have whiskers. Though, whiskers' functions are more or less the same, they still have their differences depending on the type of animal species being referred to. The same thing goes as well with rats. A rat's whisker is not just some hair follicles protruding to make up their superficial physical structure. Their whiskers serve a higher purpose that enables them to be the kind of animal that they are. We may know less about it, but their whiskers play a vital role in their overall perception. Without their whiskers, they will be greatly impaired in their vision about the world around them.
Let's first talk about what exactly whiskers are. Basically, whiskers are hair, but they grow longer than any other hair parts in an animal's body. Surprisingly, whiskers are built on dead cells that grow still from the follicles of the skin. Naturally, the follicles are supplied with sufficient blood, some nerve endings, and tiny muscles which are the ones responsible for goosebumps in humans. However, that's similarities would simply end there as the whiskers in rats are far more sophisticated than the simple sensitive hairs in humans or furs in other animals.
Every whisker would root from a follicle which is encapsulated by a blood containment called "blood sinus". Each time a whisker is moved or touched, it flexes and pushes some amount of blood to the other side of the blood sinus. Then the liquid blood form amplifies the sensation by triggering the nerve endings situated on the capsule thus sending signals to the brain. The perception of each whisker movement is so sensitive that a rat can be able to detect how long or far the whisker is stretched.
You may have noticed that rats do have quite long whiskers in each side of their nose. Usually, the longer whiskers are spouting around the cheek areas and shorter ones are naturally found near their mouths.
By the time rats are conceived, they already have whiskers in them. Fine, semi mature whiskers grow during after 12 days of an embryo growth and newly born rat would be capable to whisk its whiskers by 12 days of age.
As any hair, whiskers would grow from the follicles found in the skin. During whisker growth, the follicle would undergo certain stages of growth, repetitively executed in every after rest. The active growth and rest cycle would go on and on until the hairs will grow and stays in a place for a while. Eventually the initial hairs would fall off and will be replaced by newer ones. When a rat loses one of its whiskers, it won't be until 8-11 days when a new one grows to replace the older one.
The Purpose of Whiskers in Rats
We may not know a lot, but rats greatly depend on their whiskers to fully see and grasp the world around them. They use their whiskers to gather great amounts of information from their surrounding and they use it even more than they use their eyes. In fact, rat's eye can be quite negligible compared the purposes of a rat's other perceptive functions. Rats are highly tactile animals therefore they rely mostly on their sense of touch to know their way around and their whiskers help them a lot to detect many things. A rat is actually capable of producing a 3 dimensional (3D) construct of their perception from their surroundings just by using their sense of smell and touch. Each and every time a whisker(s) would whisk, it gathers dozens and dozens of information around them to create that 3-dimensional world.
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