Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Vibrissae AKA Whiskers
Vibrissae, the plural form of vibrissa, comes from the Latin verb vibrare meaning to shake/vibrate.
Elephant seals have 3 sets of vibrissae/whiskers:
1. mystacial ( on each side of the nose )
2. rhinal ( on the upper bridge of the nose )
3. supraorbital ( above the eyes )
These bristly yet sensitive whiskers, which are very dark/black on pups and youngsters, are thicker and longer than the other hairs on the elephant seal's body. They also seem to be the longest on the youngsters between the ages of 2 and 4 years old. Instead of being smooth like the body hairs, they are beaded with wavy bumps of repeating sequences of crests and troughs along their lengths and are supplied with blood and nerves via the muscles attaching them to the elephant seal's head. It appears as though the elephant seals can manipulate each whisker individually or as a group.
When startled or protesting, all of the elephant seal's vibrissae fairly bristle, with all of them literally standing on end.
The vibrissae on the older elephant seals tend to be lighter in color and shorter as well as often displaying many colors.
When swimming along the surface, all 3 kinds of vibrissae are often extended, probably because the elephant seal is on high alert in preparation for whatever it might encounter.
Click here to see vibrissae being used in different situations...the last picture probably being the most amazing.