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Mystacial whisker layout and musculature in the guinea pig ( Cavia porcellus ): A social, diurnal mammal

Grant, RA and Delaunay, MG and Haidarliu, S (2016) Mystacial whisker layout and musculature in the guinea pig ( Cavia porcellus ): A social, diurnal mammal. The Anatomical Record. ISSN 1932-8486

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Abstract

All mammals (apart from apes and humans) have whiskers that make use of a similar muscle arrangement. Whisker specialists, such as rats and mice, tend to be nocturnal and arboreal, relying on their whisker sense of touch to guide exploration around tree canopies at night. As such, nocturnal arboreal rodents have many whiskers that are organised into a grid-like pattern, and moved using a complex array of muscles. Indeed, most arboreal, nocturnal mammals tend to have specialised whiskers that are longer and arranged in a dense, regular grid, compared to terrestrial, diurnal mammals. The guinea pig diverged early from murid rodents (around 75 million years ago), and are ground-dwelling, diurnal animals. It would be predicted that, as a terrestrial mammal, they may have less whiskers and a reduced muscle architecture compared to arboreal, nocturnal rodents. We examined the mystacial whisker layout, musculature and movement capacity of Guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) whiskers and found that they did indeed have a disorganized whisker layout, with a fortification around the eye area. In addition, there was a reduction in musculature, especially in the intrinsic muscles. Despite guinea pigs not cyclically moving their whiskers, the mystacial musculature was still very similar to that of murid rodents. We suggest that the conserved presence of whisker layout and musculature, even in visual mammals such as primates and guinea pigs, may indicate that whiskers still play an important role in these animals, including protecting the eyes and being involved in tactile social behaviors.

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