Featured Image Credit: Youtube/ Tina Calderin
Did you know that manatees have super powers?
Well, not technically. But new research by Joseph Gaspard, director of science and conservation at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, has shown that their body hair is super-sensitive, giving them a special sense of touch and a great understanding of the world around them. No other mammal is known to possess super powers like this, so let’s give them some credit!
Manatees do not have very good sight, so it is thought that they use their whiskers to guide them to find the correct kind of seagrass that they eat. Gaspard and his colleges had previously noticed that the manatee’s body hair was just as sensitive as their whiskers. If they happened to touch a manatee body hair while working with the mammal, it would flex or shift its weight.
Scientists have actually been curious about manatee’s fuzzy exterior for quite some time now. Seals have thick and dense pelts, dolphins and whales are sleek and bare, but manatees have scraggly patches of individual hairs here and there (don’t we all?). Under each individual manatee hair is something called a blood sinus, or a blood-filled pocket.
“Pumping blood to the surface to supply 3,000-plus hairs across the body? That’s an expensive endeavor,” says Gaspard.
Gaspard had to find out for himself just how much use manatees make of their stubbly patches of body hair. He put on his barber’s smock and gave the manatee a quick buzz cut. Interestingly enough, the manatees were three times less sensitive to motion in the water, although their sensory abilities did not disappear completely. (On the bright side, MAYBE the buzz cut will help the manatee with the ladies? Or maybe not.)
Gaspard now believes that the manatees use their super sensitive hair to navigate the waters they call home. Whatever the use of their super powers may be, Gaspard says the sensory array requires a lot brain power. Proving the manatee isn’t some lazy, big, slow, sea cow. They are actually extremely evolved and adapted to their environment.
You go, manatees, you go!