A cat with whiskers could not have escaped the jaws of a predator or the claws of a carnivore.
However, it may not have been the only cat to exhibit such behaviour, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara used computer simulations to see if it was possible to predict how whiskers on a cat’s body might behave based on a genetic trait.
They found that the genes responsible for whiskers are likely to be present in other cats, including those with brown coats.
Researchers also found that whiskers can also vary in shape and size depending on the cat’s environment, suggesting that there are many factors influencing the colouration of whiskers.
“We think that whisker colour is a very important factor in the development of the whiskers, which can affect behaviour in many different ways,” said lead author Anupam Choudhary, a postdoctoral researcher in the UC Santa Barbara College of Veterinary Medicine.
“For example, in some areas, whiskers may be different in colour from the rest of the body, which is important for survival in the wild.”
The researchers found that some cats also showed distinct colouration in the skin, suggesting there was some sort of camouflage to whiskers that allowed predators to see the cats.
Choudharies said that it could be possible that whisked cats can adapt to living in a particular area, or that they are used to living with predators and that whisking is a part of their natural behaviour.
“These results suggest that whiskered cats are a result of their environment and may be used as camouflage in order to help them survive in this particular environment,” he said.
Chouxy said the researchers hope to investigate the genetics of whisker variation and the role that the coat may play in whiskers in more detail in the future.
“It could be that whiskering is a trait that is unique to the cat and that it has evolved through the interaction of the genes that control the colour and texture of the coat,” he added.