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How Important Are Cats' Whiskers?

based on 47 ratings
Author: Kimberly Hutmacher

Grade Level: 3rd to 5th; Type: Life Science: Zoology

Objective:

The objective of this experiment is to observe and determine how well your cat uses his whiskers to navigate his way through a maze.

Research Questions:

  • Did your cat squeeze through the obstacles? Did he try?
  • Did your cat walk tall through a corridor?
  • Did he hunch down and crawl through narrow spaces?

Cats’ whiskers serve a very important purpose. The long hairs on their cheeks (also called vibrissae) grow to a length that is just right to help a cat test and determine whether or not he can fit through a space. There are sensory cells in the skin at the base of each whisker. These cells release chemicals that give the cat's brain information about his surroundings every time his whiskers touch an object. This unique ability lets your cat know which spaces he can fit through and escape from.

Materials:

  • Boxes
  • Books
  • Your cat
  • Cat treats
  • Pen or pencil
  • Lab notebook

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Use the boxes and books to set up a corridor for your cat to walk through. Vary the width of the corridor, creating some wider spaces and some narrower spaces.
  2. Bring your cat into the room and observe him. Can he squeeze through the obstacles? Hint: If you have trouble getting him to try out the obstacle course, try coaxing him with treats.
  3. Next try propping a book up open so that it creates the shape of a triangle. Did your cat attempt to crawl through?
  4. Reward your cat and record all of your observations in your notebook.

Terms/Concepts: whiskers; vibrissae; sensory cells

References:

Pet Science: 50 Purr-fectly Woof-Worthy Activities for You and Your Pet, by Veronica Alice Gunter and Rain Newcomb (Lark Books, New York, 2006).

"Cats/Sciences Fair Projects," AllExperts, http://en.allexperts.com/q/Cats-1606/2011/1/Science-Fair-Project.htm.

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