Using whiskers to gain insights into animal behaviour and motor control

Monday, October 16, 2017 - 14:30
Benoziyo Brain Research Building - Room 113
Dr. Robyn A. Grant
Conservation, Evolution and Behaviour Research Group Division of Biology and Conservation Ecology Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

Abstract: Mammalian whiskers and avian rictal bristles come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Indeed, one of the most striking facial features in all mammals (excluding higher primates and humans) is the presence of whiskers. They are deployed in a wide range of tasks and environments. For example, rodents may use their whiskers to guide arboreal locomotion, whilst seals use theirs to track hydrodynamic trails of vortices shed by the fish upon which they prey (Gläser et al, 2010). Certainly, the evolution of the sense of touch is a recognised cornerstone in mammalian evolution, driving brain complexity and behavioural flexibility. While the whisker system is an established model for sensory information processing, advances in measuring whisker behaviours suggests that whisker movements are also useful for measuring aspects of motor control. Many "whisker specialists" including rodents and pinnipeds  employ their whiskers by moving  them actively, and all mammals (and even some birds) share a similar muscle architecture that drives the movement of the whiskers. Certainly, changes in whisker movements can indicate a loss of motor control and coordination. In this talk I will consider the anatomy and morphology of whiskers, and consider their function in a range of different species. I will suggest how whisker movements may have evolved, and how they are very important for whisker specialists.




      Host: Prof. Ehud Ahissar tel: 4574

      For assistance with accessibility issues, please contact