A fox squirrel with inset showing enlarged vibrissae (whiskers). Unlike normal hair, vibrissae grow from hair follicles that are 5-6 times larger than the normal pelage hair follicle, and in rodents, special brain regions process impulses caused by the movement from these hairs (Ahl, 1987). Extending the animal’s tactile sensory range, a fox squirrel’s whisker, on average, measures a little over a head-width and a half in length (Ahl, 1987). Although in an experiment no difference was established in predation on mice with clipped whiskers compared to normal bewhiskered mice (Pearson, 1962), it’s unlikely that whiskers are, in fact, useless. In support of the supposed function of collecting important sensory information especially when other senses are less effective, nocturnal flying squirrels generally have whiskers proportionally longer than tree squirrels, which are longer than ground squirrels (Ahl, 1987).
Ahl, A. S. (1987). Relationship of Vibrissal Length and Habits in the Sciuridae. Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 68, No. 4, pp. 848-853.
Pearson, O. P. (1962). Survival Value of Vibrissae. Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 43, No. 1, pp. 105-106.
Image Date: 2008DEC06
Image Species: Sciurus
Large Image: (EXIF information is accurate, stamped in UTC time).
Inset Image Location:
Inset Image Date: 2008OCT13
Inset Image Species: Sciurus
Page and Pictures By Hannah Leitheiser