Tiger's whiskers are pulse detectors

Sierra Club magazine discusses "4 Ordinary Animals with Superhero Abilities." (Flight is not included.) My favorite tidbit is about a tiger's whiskers:
NewImageThey are filled with sensitive nerve endings, which help them detect distances and changes in their surroundings. When tigers hunt, they go for the kill shot: the carotid artery located in the neck. After the tiger’s canines have pierced the artery, the whiskers move forward, encircling the prey’s neck, and determine if the prey’s pulse is gone.

Correction: Contrary to what the Sierra article says, the nerve endings aren't in the whiskers but rather the hair follicles.

"4 Ordinary Animals with Superhero Abilities"


  1. Whiskers, no matter which animal they belong to, are just hairs and as such do not contain any nerves. The follicles however (where hair is attached to the skin) can be quite sensitive and give hair its sensory functions.

    1. I’ve seen my cat sorting the crunchies by color with his whiskers before eating them. He hates the yellow ones.

    2. Exactly. Which is why there’s a word for them — vibrissae — though no one seems to use it much these days. We used to have vibrissae, too…but then scumbag evolution made us the only primates without ’em. (And so, even hirsute humans are follicly challenged, exept maybe Meg Griffin when she dons the Slutty Cat costume.)

  2. The moth thing may be more of a warning then a defense. Tiger Moths are poisonous insects and emitting that noise may work the same way as colourful patterns on it’s wings and tells predators not to eat it.

  3. Large cats don’t really ‘pierce’ the arteries so much as strangle their prey.  If it was a rip or a tear, they wouldn’t need sensors to tell  them when to let go, after all.  This is why one of the base chokes in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is named the mata leão (lion choke) in Brazilian Portugese.  Trivia!

    1. Much as they terrify me, I think I would much prefer death by tiger than death by bear.  The tiger will make it quick.  Apparently bears will just chow down on your middle while you slowly expire.

      1. i recall vividly seeing a nature video as a child of a lion eating a zebra; one paw holding down the thrashing zebra (which was understandably howling) while the lion methodically chewed on the zebra’s hind-quarters.  really warped the young mind that was at the time being indoctrinated into being a vegetarian “as to be anything else is unnatural and cruel”. sure seemed (at the time) that cruelty was the natural part.

    2. I think that depends on the cat.  I know lions generally go to suffocate, but that requires the prey to be immobilized from exhaustion, bloodloss and other lions: a better tactic to use when working with a team.  I would expect tigers, being solitary, need to kill their prey more quickly to reduce the chance of injury to themselves.

      1. Very much the opposite.  Blood-chokes (animal and people) cause unconsciousness very quickly, allowing the cat to drag the body to a better place to have lunch.  They also inhibit alert sounds.  Much safer for the cat then waiting for the victim to bleed out from wounds.

        There’s a reason that accounts of human tiger attacks in, say, the Sundarbans, often begin with, ‘Bob (or Sanji) was walking behind me, then I turned, and he was no longer there.  I never heard a thing.’

  4. And now I’m a little suspicious of this author.

    On the platypus:

    …which allows it to sense electric impulses in the sea…

    I suppose that might be true in the technical sense, but platypodes are uniformly aquatic, not marine, animals. 

  5. Was I the only one hoping from the title that they discovered that tiger whiskers somehow make a sensitive antenna that they, for some reason, use to detect electromagnetic pulses?

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