Jul 09, 2014 04:51 AM EDT
Rats Use Whiskers Like Humans Use Hands and Fingers (VIDEO)
The way rats use their whiskers is more similar to the way humans use their hands and fingers than previously thought, according to a University of Sheffield study.
Researchers said that rats are intelligent animals that use their whiskers to sense danger and to keep them safe. They can also determine a novel environment or whether they are at a risk of collision.
Researchers said that this is the first evidence that proves rats are cleverer than previously believed. The behaviour involving the movement of long facial whiskers back and forth continuously while in motion is called "whisking."
"The rat puts its whiskers where it thinks it will get the most useful information, just as we do with our fingertips," said Professor Tony Prescott, who led the study, in a statement. "All mammals except humans use facial whiskers as touch sensors. In humans we seem to have replaced this sense, in part, by being able to use our hand and fingers to feel our way."
Previous studies showed that whiskers help rats with a sense of touch and to navigate in the dark.
Prescott said that humans use their hand and fingers to identify objects and obstacles in the dark to avert accidents. In familiar environments like their home, they move faster and use their hands to avoid any unexpected collisions.
The researcher said that rats also function in the same way. But, instead use their facial whiskers to sense nearby objects and surfaces while moving through unfamiliar environments to evade collisions. And, in familiar environments, rats tend to move faster.
The finding is published in the journal Current Biology.
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