Whiskers, also known as tactile hairs or “vibrissae,” are adorable on a cat. Sometimes they appear in the form of a grand mustache, evoking the image of a Victorian gentleman. In other instances, they are simply long and flirtatious. But one can’t help to wonder, what are those lovely whiskers meant for? As it turns out, they have several functions. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about cat whiskers.
1. They are a highly effective sensory tool
While men grow beards for fashion purposes, a cat’s whiskers are specially designed to help him see in the dark and avoid hungry predators. They are highly sensitive and grow in patterns. At the root, there is a follicle packed with nerves. When the cat brushes its whiskers against an object, it can detect the exact location, size, and composition of the item, even in the dark. Damaged whiskers can compromise a cat’s ability to gauge space and distance, especially when trying to fit into a tight space. This is because the size of a cat’s whiskers is the same as her body.
2. They are an emotional barometer
You can actually determine your cat’s mood through his/her whiskers. When a cat is excited or startled, her whiskers (along with every hair on her body) will be standing on end, pointing almost entirely forward. On the other hand, when the cat is content or at rest, its whiskers will be almost completely immobile. Whiskers also play a vital role in a cat’s mobility, particularly when performing great acrobatic feats or protecting itself from dangerous situations.
3. They come in large numbers
Cats have 4 rows of whiskers arranged horizontally on either side of the face. These are placed twelve in a row to bring the total to twenty four. But there are other vibrissae on the feline’s body. The “eyebrows” located farther back on the cheeks, as well as the ones at the back of his front legs – are designed for sensory location. These whiskers are twice as thick as the other hairs on the cat and have roots extending up to 3 times as deeply as normal into a mass of nerves and blood vessels.
4. Whiskers on the legs are unique
The whiskers on the legs of your cat are designed to keep track of its prey when hunting. Cats are naturally disadvantaged in terms of sight, and they use whiskers to determine the size of a prey and how far it is. The same whiskers can also help the cat figure out whether to fight or fright in the current situation. This is complemented by a great sense of smell, which aids in handling the prey smartly.
5. They help the cat navigate in the dark
There is some scientific evidence that suggests cat’s whiskers and eyesight are interconnected. This allows the feline to maneuver extraordinarily through the dark. In fact, cats are mostly nocturnal animals. They spend about 75 percent of their entire day sleeping, and then hunt in the night. To put this into perspective, if your cat is 8 years old, he/she has been awake for 2 years only! If you touch the end of its whiskers, it will blink. Since the whiskers are linked to the nervous system, they tend to be extremely sensitive. This allows the cat to sense the slightest change in air current. They use this advantage when navigating through pieces of furniture during the night, by sensing the air current flowing in between and avoiding that particular furniture!