Home > Lifestyle > EnviroHealth > News Updated 08 April 2013 Croc whiskers explain dinosaur behaviour A new study will help biologists understand how today's animals, as well as dinosaurs and ancient crocodiles interact with the environment around them. 0 iStock Start A Health24 blog » Follow Health24 on Facebook » Test Are you envirohealth savvy? » Ask EnviroHealth Expert » Blood Lions: Bred for the Bullet movie trailer The amazing mountains on Pluto Crocodilians have nerves on their faces that are so sensitive, they can detect a change in a pond when a single drop hits the water surface several feet away. Alligators and crocodiles use these "invisible whiskers" to detect prey when hunting. Now, a new study from the University of Missouri has measured the nerves responsible for this function, which will help biologists understand how today's animals, as well as dinosaurs and crocodiles that lived millions of years ago, interact with the environment around them."The trigeminal nerve is the nerve responsible for detection of sensations of the face," said Casey Holliday, assistant professor of anatomy in the MU School of Medicine. "While we've known about these sensitive nerves in crocodiles, we've never measured the size of the nerve bundle, or ganglion, in their skulls, until now. When compared to humans, this trigeminal nerve in crocodiles is huge."The key to this measurement is a specific hole in the skull. The trigeminal nerve is rooted inside the skull, but must travel through a large hole before it branches out to reach the crocodile's skin on its face. By examining how the skull size, brain size and ganglion size relate to each other, scientists can estimate how sensitive the face is. Eventually, Holliday hopes to measure this nerve in other ancient and contemporary species to learn more about animal behaviour."Currently, we rely on alligators, crocodiles and birds to provide us with information about how ancient reptiles, such as pre-historic crocodiles and dinosaurs, functioned," said Holliday, who co-authored the study with doctoral student Ian George. "However, the first thing we have to do is to understand how the living animals function." Nerves help learn about animal behaviourWhen comparing the size of the hole for the trigeminal nerve found in alligators to that of certain dinosaurs, George says that the hole in the much-larger dinosaur skull is very similar in size or even smaller, which could give scientists more information about how well dinosaurs could detect small sensations on the face. From there, the scientists can start to trace the evolution of this nerve and the mechanism used by crocodiles. "Some species of ancient crocodiles lived on land and they probably wouldn't have a use for a sensitive face that can detect disturbances in the water," George said. "So our next step is to trace back and determine when the nerve got bigger and see how that might have paralleled the animals' ecology."Holliday says that this information will aid future research, including when his team will examine skulls of ancient crocodiles. Understanding this nerve and its functions could also lead to better understanding of the anatomical basis for behaviour in many living animals, including fish, electric eels, platypi and humans."The same way that we would look at the size of the visual cortex in the brain to understand how well an animal might see, we can now look at the trigeminal nerve in animals to determine how sensitive their skin on their faces is," Holliday said. EurekAlert NEXT ON HEALTH24X Humans correctly identify sick peers from a photo 2018-01-10 12:30 More: EnviroHealthNews advertisement Read Health24’s Comments Policy Comment on this story 0 comments Comments have been closed for this article. Logout Comment 0 characters remaining Share on Facebook Loading comments... Other news Lifestyle Floater alert: Here’s what it means if your poop floats News 35 women fall pregnant despite using contraception app News 5 diseases you risk getting if we run out of water Lifestyle 5 photos of your cervix you need to see Fitness 4 sprint workouts to help you get faster News QUIZ: How many of these random health facts do you know? From our sponsors Managing diabetes in the workplace Back-to-school with diabetes Discover treatments that can help reduce acne What can I do to reduce or remove acne marks? Live healthier Terrific Tea! » Rooibos makes cocktails healthier Rooibos: an alternative energy drink More than 10 reasons why rooibos is good for you Today marks the first annual National Rooibos Day, which aims to raise awareness of the health benefits and many uses of rooibos tea. Healthy? Are you sure? » 5 diseases we can get from animals Could your salon visit make you sick? 7 terrifying diseases you could have without knowing it Not all serious illnesses come with tell-tale symptoms. There are diseases that can turn your body into a ticking time-bomb while you're unaware of any danger.