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Word of the Week: Vibrissae
February 05, 2021 by Haya Aldoori

Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Photo by Andrew Yee

Vibrissae [vahy-BRIS-ee] (noun): Long stiff hairs growing around the mouth or elsewhere on the face of many mammals, used as organs of touch.

Tactile hair, or vibrissae, are a characteristic found on many mammals. They differ from other hair by being longer and thicker, having large follicles containing blood-filled sinus tissues, and by having an important connection to the part of the brain that receives and processes sensory information (somatosensory cortex). Vibrissae are found on various parts of the body, but those most frequently studied are the facial or mystacial vibrissae, also called whiskers.

Eastern Grey Squirrels don't hibernate during the winter. In fact, they are quite busy this season! Eastern Grey Squirrels can breed twice a year and one of their breeding seasons is December-February.

The winter little is born in February or March. Normally, one to four young are born in each litter, but the largest possible litter size is eight! The newborns are pink and hairless, with the exception of the vibrissae on their faces.

Keep and eye out for Eastern Grey Squirrels and their Vibrissae on your next winter visit to High Park!

FUN FACT: Eastern Grey Squirrels will sometimes adopt a squirrel pup in need. Through observation and DNA analysis, scientists have discovered that Eastern Grey Squirrels will sometimes have babies in their nest that are not their own. Despite being solitary creatures, squirrels will raise orphaned babies if they can determine that the pup is closely related.

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