Why Do Animals Have Whiskers?

iStock/Chloe Effron
iStock/Chloe Effron

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Humans don’t have whiskers, but most other mammals do. These wiry hairs growing out of an animal’s face, forehead, and sometimes legs have a fancy scientific name: vibrissae (Vi-BRISS-uh). From cats and dogs to rats and seals, animals use whiskers to help them find their way and follow their prey.

Not all animals have great eyesight, and some need to be able to hunt and move at night when it’s harder to see. Plus, animals with long snouts, like dogs, sometimes have trouble seeing things that are right in front of their big noses! So for a lot of animals, whiskers are a little like fingers. We use our fingers to “see” in the dark by feeling things around us. But other animals brush, or whisk, their whiskers against objects to guide them, measure things, and find food. 

Whiskers aren’t just hairs. Where each whisker is rooted in the skin are lots and lots of nerve cells. When the whisker touches something, these nerve cells send messages to the brain. It’s amazing how much information an animal’s brain gets from the whiskers. Rats’ whiskers help them make mental maps of the world around them. Seals use their whiskers to sense the vibrations of a fish moving in the water. Many animals use whiskers to figure out whether or not they can fit through a tight space. Whiskers may look cute, but they also help animals survive.

Here’s a fun video from the BBC about how cats use their whiskers to catch prey.


You’re Probably Not Cleaning Your Dog’s Leash—But Here’s Why You Should Be

Tim Graham, Getty Images
Tim Graham, Getty Images

There are several items you use every day that you probably aren't cleaning enough, like your phone, your water bottle, and your pajamas. If you're a dog owner, there may be one especially filthy object in your home that you don't clean at all: your pet's leash. According to Reader's Digest, leashes get dirty fast, and if you can't remember the last time you cleaned yours, it's definitely due to be sanitized.

Leashes are just as easily soiled as anything you touch on a regular basis. Constant use causes microbes and oils from your hands to build up on the handle. And chances are, the leash is also covered with your dog's own germs, fur, and saliva, as well as mud and dirt from the outside world. This adds up to create a cocktail of nastiness on the leash that's hanging beside your front door.

The quickest way to gauge if your leash needs to be cleaned is to look at it. Is it covered with hair and splattered with mud? If yes, it should definitely be taken care of before your dog's next walk. But even a relatively neat looking leash should be cleaned about once a month. For rope and nylon leashes, let it soak in hot soapy water for 10 minutes before rinsing it and hanging it to dry. Scrubbing with a soft nylon brush may be necessary for tougher messes like stains and caked-on grime. Some leashes can also be safely cleaned in the washing machine in a delicates bag. If your dog's leash gets dirty quickly, you may want to invest in a few extras so you aren't constantly washing the one you have.

If you're looking for cleaning projects, disinfecting the items around your home that you've been neglecting is an excellent time-killer. From pillows to shower heads, here's how often you should be washing common household items.

[h/t Reader's Digest]

Drive-Thru Coronavirus Testing Site in Pennsylvania Amish Country Accommodates Horses and Buggies

William Thomas Cain/Stringer/Getty Images
William Thomas Cain/Stringer/Getty Images

One way coronavirus testing centers can encourage social distancing is by testing patients in their vehicles. In Pennsylvania's Amish Country, that includes horses and buggies as well as cars. As CNN reports, a small clinic is accommodating the old-school transportation method in an effort to make tests more accessible to Amish and Mennonite communities.

Most residents of Belleville, Pennsylvania, are Amish or Mennonite—two groups that are uniquely vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their cautious approach to technology can result in lower news consumption, which may leave people ill-informed about a crisis that's changing by the day.

Both communities are also tight-knit: a benefit in most times of hardship, but a recipe for tragedy during a pandemic. "When they have church, they have 300 people crowded together in a little farmhouse. From the point of view of an infection like this, this is a disaster," Dr. D. Holmes Morton, founder and medical director of the Central Pennsylvania Clinic in Belleville, told CNN.

Many Amish and Mennonite meetings and church services have been suspended indefinitely, but social distancing is just one part of keeping the communities safe. Testing is also essential to containing the virus, and the Central Pennsylvania Clinic aims to make its tests available to as many people as possible. As one of the few coronavirus testing sites in the area, they're working to test asymptotic patients as well as those who are feeling sick. Research suggests that up to 50 percent of novel coronavirus carriers show no symptoms.

The clinic is not just accommodating Amish and Mennonite patients, but also how they see them. Residents are able to roll up in their horses and buggies and get tested without stepping into the clinic. At least 65 people have used the drive-through (or ride-through) clinic since it opened on April 1.

[h/t CNN]

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