A night in the life of a rat: Vibrissal mechanics and tactile exploration

Mitra J Z Hartmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The rat vibrissal (whisker) system is an increasingly important model for the study of the sense of touch. This paper describes recent results obtained from high-speed videography of rat exploratory behavior and from modeling studies of vibrissal biomechanics. We review several features of vibrissal touch, including the mechanics of contact versus noncontact whisking, the coordination between head and whisker movements, and the use of information obtained from the whiskers to detect, localize, and extract the spatial properties of objects. This work highlights the idea that mechanics are critical to an understanding of sensory systems and describes some new tools to monitor the spatiotemporal patterns of whisker-object contact during natural tactile exploratory behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)110-118
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Biomechanics
  • Somatosensory
  • Trigeminal
  • Vibrissa
  • Whisker

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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