Your housecat isn’t the only animal with whiskers, and people are generally unaware that mammal species without whiskers are actually a minority. These tools are essential to the survival of most animals, and today, we’ll be taking a look at all animals with whiskers to see how they use them.
Check out the list of animals with whiskers below:
- Whiskered Auklets
- Whales and Dolphins
Scientific name (order): Siluriformes
You’d hardly expect that some of the most prominent entries on this list are fish and marine mammals, but there are actually many non-mammal species with whiskers.
Catfish are an order of fish with whiskers, while there’s a family of long-whiskered catfishes that has extensively long whiskers. For fish, it’s presumed that whiskers exist primarily for tactile identification.
2. Whiskered Auklet
Scientific name: Aethia pygmaea
This small seabird has a few white feathers that are protruding from around its eyes that have been proven to help them navigate in the dark. They use their whiskers in a similar way to cats.
Whisker usefulness was proven by an experiment when scientists taped the whiskers to their heads and had the birds navigate through a dark tunnel. Birds that weren’t able to use their whiskers were bumping their heads on the edges of the tunnel twice as much in comparison to birds with whiskers.
This experiment, no matter how rudimentary it may be, proves that these whiskers aren’t just for show.
Scientific name (family): Phocidae
These marine mammals use their whiskers in a very similar way to how wolves and dogs use their scent. It’s been documented that seals will swim after a specific trail, identically to how a wolf would follow a trail in the wild.
They’re usually even able to differentiate two different scent trails, but they also have incredible tactile senses – allowing them to detect vibrations in the water. This helps them hunt, as they can literally feel the fish when they’re close enough.
Scientific name (genus): Trichechus
Another species of marine mammals with whiskers, the whiskers of a manatee are just as formidable when it comes to hunting as the whiskers of a seal. They’re able to tell the difference between several scent trails left in the water.
They can also detect changes in the seabed and in the current. It’s speculated by experts that all the hairs of the manatee might be small, but sensitive whiskers.
Their placement and sheer number of whiskers is thoroughly impressive, as they have around 600 whiskers around their lips.
5. Whales and Dolphins
Scientific name (infraorder): Cetacea
Even though they’re by no means the same family of animal, whales and dolphins are grouped together because of a very specific evolutionary trait. They aren’t just animals with whiskers – they’re animals with whiskers around their blowholes.
This is an evolutionary trait that’s only proving that different see mammals have different placement of whiskers, unlike terrestrial mammals where the greatest number of species have whiskers around their nose.
Scientific name: Odobenus rosmarus
Walrus whiskers also teach us that there are noticeable differences when it comes to the shape of the whiskers. These mammals have smooth whiskers, unlike seals, animals with wavy whiskers.
It’s still not determined whether shape is important, but what we know with certainty is that the angle in opposition to water flow is much more important than fiber shape.
Marine mammals also function completely differently in comparison to terrestrial mammals – they don’t move their whiskers over an object but they extend them and keep them in the same position when examining an object.
Scientific name (subfamily): Lutrinae
Otters are one of the few animal families that can effectively use their whiskers both underwater and above it. These animals, although they’re formally terrestrial, spend the largest part of their life underwater.
Their whiskers are especially useful when it comes to detecting prey and any changes in the water. However, on the ground, they use their whiskers to detect other otters and the scent of other animals brought on by a breeze or a gust of air.
Scientific name (parvorder): Caviomorpha
Out of all animals with whiskers, chinchillas might have the most impressive whiskers when it comes to length. Their whiskers can be more than a third of their own body length!
To use them properly, they whisk them (pun intended) back and forth in a periodic motion to detect scent and movement. Why have their whiskers grown to such incredible lengths is still unknown.
Scientific name (family): Canidae
Foxes are another interesting family of animals when it comes to whiskers, as they don’t have whiskers only on their noses, but also on the forelimbs. Their muzzle whiskers are usually longer, around 4 inches in length.
The whiskers on their legs are usually less than 2 inches long. They’re also pointing downward and backwards. Scientists now know that there’s a difference between four groups of face whiskers.
Formally, foxes have whiskers above the eye, “mustache whiskers”, whiskers on their cheek and whiskers below the snout. The exact purpose of limb whiskers is still just speculated about.
It’s likely that they don’t use it for detecting scents and pheromones, and are instead used for movement and to track any instant changes in the environment.
Scientific name (order): Rodentia
Rats, like many other rodents, have a different distribution of whiskers. One set of whiskers is placed under the nostrils, the second set is on their face, and the third set is above their eyes.
In the rat, every single follicle is innervated with up to 200 primary nerve cells, serving a larger number of receptors of different types – usually no less than eight types.
This way, even if there’s a minimal disturbance in the environment, be it a deflection or a new scent – it will kick in a sensory response in the animal’s brain.
Whisker systems in rats and mice are so incredibly complex and well-developed that they’re generally considered to be “whisker specialists”.
Scientific name (family): Leporidae
Rabbits are a great example of an animal that uses its whiskers not only to detect sudden changes in scents in the immediate environment, but also to navigate.
As we all know, rabbits live in burrows with seemingly endless tunnels below the ground. To navigate in these tunnels (remember that it’s pitch-black below the ground), rabbits use their whiskers to sense the area around them.
Additionally, their eye placement doesn’t help – their eyes are on the sides, so they use their whiskers to see exactly what’s in front of them.
Scientific name: Procyon lotor
Raccoons have whiskers protruding right above their snouts and they use them to smell nearby food sources. Unlike many animal species that spend a lot of the time sleeping, raccoons are completely obsessed with food.
They’re ready to scavenge, but also kill smaller animals. Since they’re mostly nocturnal, their whiskers are very useful as they can detect a food source, be it an earthworm or a leftover apple on your patio.
Since they’re not particularly picky animals, their whiskers are sensitive to more or less everything.
Scientific name (family): Felidae
Tigers, lions, jaguars, cheetahs and your housecat – all of these animals have one thing in common – whiskers. Cats are arguably the most famous animal when it comes to their characteristic whiskers.
Their whiskers are highly sensitive, ensuring that they can safely navigate in the dark, smell prey and capture it. Most cats have whiskers above the eyes, on their muzzle and on their cheeks.
Some animals, like the lynx have small antennae on their ears that are often confused with whiskers, but know that they aren’t whiskers. Interestingly, some cats can grow whiskers almost 7 inches long!
Whiskers are a vastly underrated tool in the animal kingdom, and humans are actually one of the few species without whiskers. Cats are definitely the most famous animals with whiskers, but many people forget about foxes and rabbits as great examples of mammals with whiskers.
There are also animals like the giant panda, which have some sort of formation on their face that’s often confused with whiskers, but their purpose is still unknown.
Interestingly, marine mammals often have very well-developed whiskers, with seals and manatees being prime examples of that. Lastly, don’t forget about various fish, like catfish and carp, which also have whiskers.