Because the domestic cat is almost identical to the small wild cats morphologically, we can say right away that all small wild cats have whiskers without knowing much about small wild cats. They have about 24 movable whiskers. They appear in four or more parallel rows. They are situated above the upper lip on each side of the nose and they are supersensitive and are in fact “special sensory hairs” with the Latin name ‘vibrissae’.
You will also see vibrissae on each cheek. And in tufts above the eyes on the forehead. And on the chin and on the inner wrist area and finally at the back of the legs.
They can be deliberately manipulated unlike human facial hair. You may have seen this with your domestic cat, for instance. If a cat is particularly interested in an object their whiskers are directed forwards like feelers. And if a cat is in a defensively aggressive state of mind, their vibrissae will fold back against the face.
Also, the upper couple of rows of whiskers on a small cat’s face can move independently of the lower two rows. They aid in navigation. They are so sensitive they can pick up air currents travelling around buildings or objects which they can’t see if it’s too dark.
They help to feel objects such as prey animals that the cat has just killed. As you know, they are thicker than ordinary hairs. The roots are set deep into the dermis of the skin in “wells of fluid” (reference Small Wild Cats by Sanderson and Watson).
All small wild cats are members of the Felidae family of cats. The domestic cat is listed a species of small cat. The digram below shows how scientists have grouped the cats based on their lineages – how they have evolved from the same origins.
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