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My lab:
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Kenneth Catania compared the sensory systems of the Star Nosed Mole and the Water Shrew.
The nose of the Star Nosed Mole is covered with specialized sensory organs called Eimer's organs. In order to smell, the mole exhales air (it hunts in water) bubbles and then inhales them again (sniffing). Water Shrews also forage under water and also blow air bubbles in and out to sniff for their prey. Both species do this about 10 times per second. Importantly, terrestrial shrews trained to get food from water do not do this underwater sniffing, showing that this behavior is a functional specialization of the semi aquatic animals.
Water shrew are very quick under water and can catch fish and crayfish at night. The shrews don't see well in general, so vision does not guide them in finding its prey. Instead, the shrew senses water currents with their vibrissae: if a pulse of current is experimentally induced, the shrew will attack it. Their mechanosensory system is so accurate, that they can even distinguish the shape of the prey object. Undesirable prey shapes can be made to elicit an attack by moving them realistically.
So the mole uses its Eimer's organs and the shrew its vibrissae to accomplish prey localization and capture. Both species perform underwater sniffing. These differences and commonalities are reflected in the overall brain organization (work in progress).

Posted on Friday 27 July 2007 - 21:27:23 comment: 0
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