Forum für Wissenschaft, Industrie und Wirtschaft

Hauptsponsoren:     3M 
Datenbankrecherche:

 

Tactile croc jaws more sensitive than human fingertips

08.11.2012
Armoured in elaborate scales, the skins of crocodiles and alligators are much prized by the fashion industry. But sadly, not all skins are from farmed animals.

Some are from endangered species and according to Ken Catania from Vanderbilt University, USA, sometimes the only way to distinguish legitimate hides from poached skins is to look at the distribution of thousands of microscopic pigmented bumps that pepper crocodiles' bodies.

Adding that the minute dome organs are restricted to the faces of alligators, Catania puzzled, 'What are the organs for?' Explaining that they have been proposed to detect subtle shifts in water salinity and shown to sense ripples in water, Catania says, 'We suspected that there might be more to the story', so he and Duncan Leitch teamed up to take a closer look at the small structures. The duo discovered that the bumps are tactile and even more touch sensitive than human fingertips. They publish their discovery in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org.

Observing the skin of American alligators and Nile crocodiles with scanning electron microscopy, Leitch could see that each dome was surrounded by a hinge depression. And when he sliced through a series of domes to identify the sensory receptor structures beneath, he found sensitive free nerve endings near the dome surface, and laminated corpuscle structures – which are vibration sensitive – and dermal Merkel complexes – which respond to sustained pressure – in the lowest skin layer.

Next, Leitch stained the nerve structures leading from the skin through the reptile's jaw and painstakingly traced the sensitive trigeminal nerve as it branched to the domes. 'The innervation of these jaws was incredible!' exclaims Catania. The entire jaw was infiltrated with a delicate network of nerves. 'There was a tremendous number of nerve endings and each of the nerve endings comes out of a hole in the skull', Leitch adds. Referring to the animal's combative lifestyle, he suggests that this arrangement protects the delicate trigeminal nerve fibres – carried inside the skull – from damage during attacks while maximising the nerve endings' sensitivity at the surface.

But none of these observations answered the question of which system the domes relay sensory information to. Recalling that the domes had been proposed to detect salinity changes and even electric fields, Leitch gently bathed the limbs of Nile crocodiles in brackish water while carefully recording the electrical activity in the spinal nerve, but couldn't detect a signal. And when he repeated the experiments while applying a weak electric field to the water, there was no response again. However, when Leitch gently touched one of the sensory domes with a minute hair designed to test human touch sensitivity, he discovered that the domes around the animals' teeth and jaws were even more touch sensitive than human finger-tips. And when he filmed crocodiles and alligators going about their business in the aquarium at night, he was impressed at how fast the animal's 50 ms response times were. 'As soon as they feel something touch, they snap at it', recalls Catania.

So, why do such well-armoured animals require such an exquisite sense of touch? Leitch suggests that this sensitivity allows the animals to distinguish rapidly between unpalatable pieces of debris and tasty prey while also allowing mother crocodiles to dextrously aid their hatching young by extracting them from the egg with their jaws. The pair is keen to understand how these sensory areas map onto the forebrain. Explaining that massive regions of the human brain are dedicated to processing touch sensory information, Catania says, '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 forebrain have evolved'.

IF REPORTING ON THIS STORY, PLEASE MENTION THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY AS THE SOURCE AND, IF REPORTING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A LINK TO: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/215/23/4217.abstract

REFERENCE: Leitch, D. B. and Catania, K. C. (2012). Structure, innervation and response properties of integumentary sensory organs in crocodilians. J. Exp. Biol. 215, 4217-4230.

This article is posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to report on this story. Full attribution is required, and if reporting online a link to jeb.biologists.com is also required. The story posted here is COPYRIGHTED. Therefore advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full. PLEASE CONTACT permissions@biologists.com

kathryn Knight | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.biologists.com

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel 'repair system' discovered in algae may yield new tools for biotechnology
29.07.2016 | Boyce Thompson Institute

nachricht Molecular troublemakers instead of antibiotics?
29.07.2016 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neue Bildgebungsmethode macht Sauerstoffgehalt in Gewebe sichtbar

Wie blickt man in den menschlichen Körper, ohne zu operieren? Die Suche nach neuen Lösungen ist nach wie vor eine wichtige Aufgabe der Medizinforschung. Eine der großen Herausforderungen auf diesem Feld ist es, Sauerstoff in Gewebe sichtbar zu machen. Ein Team um Prof. Vasilis Ntziachristos, Inhaber des Lehrstuhls für Biologische Bildgebung an der Technischen Universität München (TUM) und Direktor des Instituts für Biologische und Medizinische Bildgebung am Helmholtz Zentrum München, hat dazu einen neuen Ansatz entwickelt.

Einen Königsweg, um den Sauerstoffgehalt in Gewebe sichtbar zu machen, schien es bislang nicht zu geben. Viele unterschiedliche Verfahren wurden ausprobiert,...

Im Focus: Wie biologische Vielfalt das Ohr fit macht

Göttinger Hörforschung mit neuen Erkenntnissen: Das Ohr setzt Synapsen mit verschiedenen Eigenschaften ein, um unterschiedlich lauten Schall zu verarbeiten. Forschungsergebnisse veröffentlicht in der Fachzeitschrift „Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences“

Der menschliche Hörsinn verarbeitet einen immensen Bereich an Lautstärken. Wie schafft es das Ohr, etwa über eine Million Schalldruck-Variationen zu...

Im Focus: Ultrakompakter Photodetektor

Der Datenverkehr wächst weltweit. Glasfaserkabel transportieren die Informationen mit Lichtgeschwindigkeit über weite Entfernungen. An ihrem Ziel müssen die optischen Signale jedoch in elektrische Signale gewandelt werden, um im Computer verarbeitet zu werden. Forscher am KIT haben einen neuartigen Photodetektor entwickelt, dessen geringer Platzbedarf neue Maßstäbe setzt: Das Bauteil weist eine Grundfläche von weniger als einem Millionstel Quadratmillimeter auf, ohne die Datenübertragungsrate zu beeinträchtigen, wie sie im Fachmagazin Optica nun berichten. (DOI: 10.1364/OPTICA.3.000741)

Die neuentwickelten Photodetektoren, die weltweit kleinsten Photodetektoren für die optische Datenübertragung, eröffnen die Möglichkeit, durch integrierte...

Im Focus: Self-assembling nano inks form conductive and transparent grids during imprint

Transparent electronics devices are present in today’s thin film displays, solar cells, and touchscreens. The future will bring flexible versions of such devices. Their production requires printable materials that are transparent and remain highly conductive even when deformed. Researchers at INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials have combined a new self-assembling nano ink with an imprint process to create flexible conductive grids with a resolution below one micrometer.

To print the grids, an ink of gold nanowires is applied to a substrate. A structured stamp is pressed on the substrate and forces the ink into a pattern. “The...

Im Focus: Neues Forschungsnetzwerk für Mikrobiomforschung

Mikroben und Viren haben weitreichenden Einfluss auf die Gesundheit von Mensch und Tier. Die neu gegründete "Austrian Microbiome Initiative" (AMICI) fördert die nationale Mikrobiomforschung und vernetzt MedizinerInnen und ForscherInnen verschiedenster Fachrichtungen zur Nutzung von Synergien.

Bakterien, Archaeen, Pilze, Viren – Milliarden von Mikroorganismen leben in Symbiose in und auf Menschen und Tieren. Diese mikroskopisch kleinen Lebewesen...

Alle Focus-News des Innovations-reports >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

IHR
JOB & KARRIERE
SERVICE
im innovations-report
in Kooperation mit academics
Veranstaltungen

BAuA lädt zur Konferenz „Arbeiten im Büro der Zukunft“ ein

29.07.2016 | Veranstaltungen

Fachkongress zu additiven Fertigungsverfahren am 14. und 15. September in Aachen

28.07.2016 | Veranstaltungen

Rheumatologen tagen in Frankfurt: Mehr Forschung für Rheuma gefordert

28.07.2016 | Veranstaltungen

 
B2B-VideoLinks
Weitere VideoLinks >>>
Aktuelle Beiträge

Forschung gibt Impulse für Innovationen

29.07.2016 | Förderungen Preise

Molekulare Störenfriede statt Antibiotika? Wie Proteine Kommunikation zwischen Bakterien verhindern

29.07.2016 | Biowissenschaften Chemie

Internationales Forscherteam deckt grundlegende Eigenschaften des Spin-Seebeck-Effekts auf

29.07.2016 | Physik Astronomie