Like dogs and other mammal species, wolves have whiskers on their face. They will use whiskers to detect their surroundings and make sure they’re able to move through space as efficiently as possible.
Whiskers are like small radars that wolves use to detect what’s going on around them. Wolf whiskers are also called vibrissae, and they’re used to detect the environment around them when they can’t use other senses, which might happen at night. Whiskers are complementary to other wolf senses.
Most mammal species, excluding humans and some other rare species, have vibrissae, or whiskers. And though they play different roles with different animals, they all have the main purpose of detecting the environment around them.
What Do Wolves Need Whiskers For?
Whiskers, or vibrissae, play two main roles for the wolves:
- They are used to detect and sense the immediate surroundings around whiskers, which they do by sending neural connections to the brain, which allows the wolf to sense the world around them when they can’t use other senses properly. This sensual function is called the tactile sense, and it’s similar to the sense they experience on their skins.
- The other use of the whiskers is that they represent the state of the mind of the wolf. This might be closely connected to how they feel or what they’re experiencing emotionally. It’s also common to see whiskers move when wolves are asleep, which is what happens when they’re dreaming.
The first use of the whiskers is far more important than the secondary role. It gives them an advantage over other animals that don’t have whiskers, which is especially useful at night when they can’t rely on their eyesight as much. In addition to detecting the area around them, wolves use whiskers for:
- Object localization
- Orienting the snout
- Detection of movement, shape, and texture
- Maze learning
- Locating food animals
- and more
You can see that whiskers are incredibly important for wolves, and for other mammals, too. Some studies with seals have shown that when animals aren’t able to use whiskers, their ability to sense the world around them gets weaker, so they’re not as prepared to survive in the wild as they are with whiskers.
Some animals even use whiskers for socialization, such as rats. Although wolves don’t normally use them that way, they can be an indicator of the internal, mental state of the wolf. This is especially visible when the wolf is asleep or dreaming.
How Do Wolf Whiskers Work?
Wolf whiskers are used as sensory detectors that will measure and analyze the world around them wolf when it touches objects around it, and send that information to the brain of the wolf. Then, this information allows the wolf to move around more swiftly and know the environment much better.
Each whisker has several hundred nerve cells inside, which are used to detect and send the information to the brain. For comparison, a seal has around 1500 nerve cells inside a whisker, making it the most efficient animal with whiskers. A wolf doesn’t have as many whiskers, but still enough to provide them with the relevant information.
The wolf will get information such as object size, texture, and location, which ultimately allows it to analyze the environment around them better without using additional senses.
But whiskers will usually work in collaboration with other sensory parts of a wolf, such as eyesight, smell, and hearing. At night, whiskers can be invaluable for wolves.
How Long are Wolf Whiskers?
A wolf’s whisker is slightly longer than a dog’s whisker. They need slightly longer whiskers as they’re out in the wild, allowing them to sense the world around them much better.
This was a part of the evolution that changed from wolves to dogs because domestic dogs don’t require the whiskers to be as long and as accurate as wolves do, especially at night.
An interesting fact about wolf whiskers is that once they’re cut, they’ll grow back to their normal length in a matter of weeks. Some studies have shown that it took a dog 11-15 weeks to regrow its whiskers after they have been cut. It’s estimated that this period is similar for wolves.
What Other Animals Have Whiskers?
Most mammals have whiskers, including cats, dogs, mice, rats, beavers, seals, walruses. Only a couple of mammals don’t have whiskers, including humans and the monotremes (echidnas and platypus).
Humans don’t need whiskers as we use other sensory functions to detect the world around us just as well as other animals do with whiskers. We depend on our brain functions more instead of on whiskers, and we have strong senses in our fingertips and toes.
An interesting fact is that humans had whiskers around 800.000 years ago, but we don’t need them anymore because we have integrated the function that whiskers do into our brains. This function is located in the somatosensory cortex.
Some animals, such as rats, use whiskers to enhance their social lives. They have long whiskers – looking proportionately according to their bodies – which allows them to not only sense the world around them but also recognize potential mates to mate with.
Seals, on the other hand, have much more powerful whiskers than wolves or other mammals. They can use them to detect water currents and swim more efficiently, which gives them an advantage over some fish species in the water, making them more efficient predators.
A wolf’s whisker is a very important body part for this mammal. It plays the role of recognizing the world around them and the objects that touch the whiskers. They can help the wolf recognize the shape of these objects, the texture, and the size without seeing it, which may come in handy at night.
Whiskers have been a part of the evolutionary path of wolves that has transferred to dogs, and most other mammals have them, too. Humans don’t have them, because we use our brains to detect the same senses as whiskers do for wolves.
So now you know that wolves do have whiskers and that they’re not just decorational!