Innovators are full of questions.Nature has answers.


  • Strategy

Whiskers detect details: mammals


Cat whiskers / Kevin Steele / LicenseCC-by-nc - Attribution Non-commercial

The whiskers of some mammals help detect detailed surface textures via tapered ends.

"The role of facial vibrissae (whiskers) in the behavior of terrestrial mammals is principally as a supplement or substitute for short-distance vision. Each whisker in the array functions as a mechanical transducer, conveying forces applied along the shaft to mechanoreceptors in the follicle at the whisker base. Subsequent processing of mechanoreceptor outputallows high accuracy discriminations of object distance, direction, and surface texture. The whiskers of terrestrial mammals are tapered and approximately circular in cross sectionWe argue that a tapered whisker provides some advantages for tactile perception (as compared to a hypothetical untapered whisker), and that this may explain why the taper has been preserved during the evolution of terrestrial mammals

"We suggest that one of the main advantages of whisker taper, at least for active whiskers, is to provide a small diameter at the whisker tip, to allow for a finer probe of small surface features." (Williams & Kramer 2010:e8806)
About the inspiring organism

Learn more at
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Sensors that can detect microscale defects in products. Improved robotic mechanoreceptors for tactile perception.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Electronics, manufacturing, engineering, robotics

Physics Department
Dr. Eric Kramer
Bard College at Simon's Rock
Williams CM; Kramer EM. 2010. The advantages of a tapered whisker. PLoS One. 5(1): e8806.
Learn More at Google Scholar Google Scholar  


Login to Post a Comment.

No comments found.