Adventist Youth Honors Answer Book/Nature/Cats/whiskers

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Cat's whiskers are connected to sensitive nerves, and act like extra fingers for feeling things. The whiskers on the cat are specialized sensory hairs grouped in three specific locations on the cats head. The supercilary whiskers are positioned above the eyes, the genal whiskers to the rear of the cats cheek area and the mystacial whiskers, which are the longest and most prominent are located on either side of the cat's muzzle. The mystacial whiskers are primarily used as an alternative sensing mechanism when the eyes are no longer effective (i.e. in the dark). It is now believed that there is a link between sensory and visual input in the cat and that a degree of parallel processing takes place within the brain. This can be demonstrated by simply touching the end of the whiskers – the automatic response is for the cat to blink.

The extreme sensitivity of the hairs can register very small changes in air pressure thus enabling the cat to avoid objects while moving around in the dark. It is thought that the whiskers may also be used to establish the position of prey and to help locate the exact position for the killing bite.

Interestingly, cheetahs, who mainly hunt by day, have less developed whiskers than many other 'night hunting' cats.

Cats are able to change the position of their whiskers depending on what they are doing - at rest the whiskers are elongated, at 90% to the head, whilst when walking they are tilted forward to aid their sensing ability.