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    Describing whisker morphology of the Carnivora

    Dougill, Gary ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8885-6166, Brassey, Charlotte ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6552-541X, Starostin, Eugene L, Andrews, Hayley, Kitchener, Andrew, van der Heijden, Gert, Goss, Victor and Grant, Robyn ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3968-8370 (2023) Describing whisker morphology of the Carnivora. Journal of Morphology, 284 (9). e21628-e21628. ISSN 0362-2525

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    One of the largest ecological transitions in carnivoran evolution was the shift from terrestrial to aquatic lifestyles, which has driven morphological diversity in skulls and other skeletal structures. In this paper, we investigate the association between those lifestyles and whisker morphology. However, comparing whisker morphology over a range of species is challenging since the number of whiskers and their positions on the mystacial pads vary between species. Also, each whisker will be at a different stage of growth and may have incurred damage due to wear and tear. Identifying a way to easily capture whisker morphology in a small number of whisker samples would be beneficial. Here, we describe individual and species variation in whisker morphology from two-dimensional scans in red fox, European otter and grey seal. A comparison of long, caudal whiskers shows inter-species differences most clearly. We go on to describe global whisker shape in 24 species of carnivorans, using linear approximations of curvature and taper, as well as traditional morphometric methods. We also qualitatively examine surface texture, or the presence of scales, using scanning electron micrographs. We show that gross whisker shape is highly conserved, with whisker curvature and taper obeying simple linear relationships with length. However, measures of whisker base radius, length, and maybe even curvature, can vary between species and substrate preferences. Specifically, the aquatic species in our sample have thicker, shorter whiskers that are smoother, with less scales present than those of terrestrial species. We suggest that these thicker whiskers may be stiffer and able to maintain their shape and position during underwater sensing, but being stiffer may also increase wear.

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