Are you surprised? Cats have mustaches on their front legs and it is possible that, until today, you have not noticed them. If you’ve never seen them before, look at your cat now: you will notice that they are exactly the same as those of the eyebrows and chin. The whiskers on their legs grow from the back of the legs around the fifth finger.
All mustaches are known by the technical term of vibrisas. The whiskers located on the cat’s legs are called carpal vibrisas.
First, it is necessary to recognize that mustaches are not common hairs. Under the skin, its hair follicles are distinguished from the ordinary fur of the cat both in its structure and in its function.
They are of much stiffer texture and are embedded more deeply in the cat’s body than ordinary fur. A particular feature of the whiskers of the legs is that they are exquisitely sensitive; they are highly innervated and irrigated by blood. For this reason, lighter contact with the whiskers sends information from the environment to the brain.
Is it known why cats have whiskers on their paws?
Let’s remember first what mustaches are and what they do. Mustaches are thick hairs that grow inside a sensory cell and their main function is to detect movements. And they are very good at it.
Facial mustaches are so sensitive that they can detect even small air currents; they work like radars. Thus, these mustaches help cats to hunt, orient themselves and anticipate movements.
Now, cats have whiskers on their paws not to calculate the space they are about to go through, because that is the function of the face whiskers.
The whiskers of the front legs help them calculate the position of their prey. Thus, they are important for cats when it comes to catching and keeping their ‘victim’ captive.
Some studies of carpal mustaches suggest their function in adjusting the stiffness of the legs, which anticipates the step depending on the different substrates that it finds, an interesting function that is being tried to be applied in robotic locomotion.
The whiskers on the legs are vestiges of a wildlife. While today’s domestic cats do not have to hunt their food, many still do so by choice.
Carpal vibrisas, key elements in the sixth feline sense
It is appropriate to remember that cats do not have a particularly sharp short vision, which means that when a cat is incredibly close to something, like a prey, it will not be able to see its small movements.
Of course perception in these circumstances can make the difference between a successful capture and return home hungry. Carp mustaches help compensate for feline vision.
Cats have mustaches because they need them and you should never cut them
Another common mistake is to assume that cat whiskers should be trimmed. Some cats, such as the cornish rex, even have their curly facial mustaches, so some owner might think that it would not be harmful to straighten them with a little clipping. It is a mistake!
Never cut a cat’s whiskers. Without their tactile hairs, cats become very disoriented and scary.
In summary, mustaches allow cats to measure and make sense of their surroundings. Cats need their whiskers to remain intact, and they use their whiskers in the same way that we use the tactile receptors at the tips of our fingers to feel in the dark and alert us to potentially painful situations.
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