Describing whisker morphology of the Carnivora

Journal article


Dougill, G., Brassey, C.A., Starostin, E., Andrews, H., Kitchener, A., van der Heijden, G.H.M., Goss, G. and Grant, R. (2023). Describing whisker morphology of the Carnivora. Journal of morphology. 284 (9), p. e21628. https://doi.org/10.1002/jmor.21628
AuthorsDougill, G., Brassey, C.A., Starostin, E., Andrews, H., Kitchener, A., van der Heijden, G.H.M., Goss, G. and Grant, R.
Abstract

One of the largest ecological transitions in carnivoran evolution was the shift from terrestrial to aquatic lifestyles, which has driven morphological diversity in skulls and other skeletal structures. In this paper we investigate the association between those lifestyles and
whisker morphology. However, comparing whisker morphology over a range of species is challenging since the number of whiskers and their positions on the mystacial pads vary
between species. Also, each whisker will be at a different stage of growth and may have incurred damage due to wear and tear. Identifying a way to easily capture whisker morphology in a small number of whisker samples would be beneficial. Here, we describe individual and species variation in whisker morphology from two-dimensional scans in red fox, European otter and grey seal. A comparison of long, caudal whiskers shows interspecies differences most clearly. We go on to describe global whisker shape in 24 species of carnivorans, using linear approximations of curvature and taper, as well as traditional morphometric methods. We also qualitatively examine surface texture, or the presence of scales, using Scanning Electron Microscope images. We show that gross highly conserved, with whisker curvature and taper obeying simple linear relationships with length. However, measures of whisker base radius, length, and maybe even curvature, can vary between species and substrate preferences. Specifically, the aquatic species in our sample have thicker, shorter whiskers that are smoother, with less scales present than those of terrestrial species. We suggest that these thicker whiskers may be stiffer and able to maintain their shape and position during underwater sensing, but being stiffer may also increase wear.

Keywords curvature, aquatic, mechanoreception, touch, vibrissae
Year2023
JournalJournal of morphology
Journal citation284 (9), p. e21628
PublisherWiley
ISSN1097-4687
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1002/jmor.21628
Publication dates
Print07 Aug 2023
Publication process dates
Accepted24 Jul 2023
Deposited24 Aug 2023
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Open
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