Crocs and Alligators Have Sensitive Jaws
Scientists have discovered that the tiny bumps dotting the bodies and faces of crocodiles and alligators are sensitive and can help sense a prey.
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Researchers Ken Catania and Duncan Leitch from Vanderbilt University, Nashville, found that these special dots are made up of cells which are pressure and vibration sensitive and come in handy when hunting. Crocodiles have the bumps on their jaws and alligators on most of their bodies.
"The jaws of crocodiles seem to be unique and can almost be said to perform some of the tactile functions of human hands," Leitch told BBC.
"When I used a calibrated series of fibers to touch or tickle the [bumps], I found that they were responsive to forces finer than our own fingertips - a sensory system widely studied for its own sensitivity. I found that there were many specialized cell receptor types - many of which are very similar to those found in human skin," said Leitch, adding to the earlier known theories on these pores like spots being electrical or magnetic receptors in nature.
Leitch drew parallels with human sensitivity and said these reptilians also use the sensation of touch to differentiate threats, harmless objects and potential food. Crocodiles and alligators can snap at their prey at a speed of 50 milliseconds but they are known to carry their young ones around in the same jaw.
"It seems to make sense that an animal that might need to carefully discriminate between inedible objects and food, especially in dark or nocturnal environments, would be well-served by having an exquisite sense of touch," Leitch further said.
"Crocodilians are not an ancestor to humans, but they are an important branch that allows us to fill in key parts of the evolutionary puzzle for how sensory maps in the fore brain have evolved', researcher Catania told BBC.
The findings of the study are published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.