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posted by janrinok on Thursday December 02, @05:38PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the Ehh,-What's-Up-Doc? dept.

The secret life of Tasmanian devils is hiding in their whiskers:

Scientists can peer at least nine months into a Tasmanian devil's past by studying its whiskers, a new study led by UNSW Sydney has found.

The long, wiry whiskers on these stocky marsupials hold chemical imprints from food they've eaten in the past – records that can help tell broader stories about their foraging habits, habitat use and how they respond to environmental change.

Researchers have now mapped this timescale for the first time, showing that devils' whiskers can capture seasonal dietary changes over at least nine months and potentially up to a year.

[...] Up until now, tracing a devil's culinary history with its whiskers has been a bit like using an out-of-order time machine: scientists could see the chemical records, but couldn't confirm if they were from a week, month, or year ago.

To get a clearer picture of the timeline, the UNSW-led research team fed tablets enriched in heavy stable isotopes – types of atoms that don't decay into other elements over time – to six captive devils at three-month intervals. These stable isotopes acted as timestamps, marking the whiskers with each season's passing.

When more than a year had passed, the team removed the longest whisker from each animal for analysis. They found the whiskers grew fast at first before slowing down, and that whiskers on different parts of their muzzle grew to different maximum lengths. On average, the longest whiskers held at least nine months of the animal's ecological history – but as whisker growth slows over time, the researchers suggest it's likely they can hold up to a year.

Journal Reference:
Marie R. G. Attard, Anna Lewis, Stephen Wroe, et al. Whisker growth in Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) and applications for stable isotope studies [open], Ecosphere (DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.3846)


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, @05:51PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, @05:51PM (#1201564)

    Plus you can tell what drugs their on.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, @05:54PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, @05:54PM (#1201567)

      You stole my comment. I'm not in the mood to tell you that great minds think alike. You stole my thought and I'm not your friend anymore.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, @05:57PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, @05:57PM (#1201569)

        Tasmanian devil on meth.

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by stretch611 on Thursday December 02, @10:40PM (2 children)

    by stretch611 (6199) Subscriber Badge on Thursday December 02, @10:40PM (#1201668)

    Hasenpfeffer

    --
    I think; therefore, I am vaccinated (and boosted.)
    • (Score: 2) by Azuma Hazuki on Friday December 03, @04:27PM (1 child)

      by Azuma Hazuki (5086) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 03, @04:27PM (#1201842) Journal

      I thought it was mostly dynamite disguised as roast chickens....

      --
      I am "that girl" your mother warned you about...
      • (Score: 2) by stretch611 on Friday December 03, @05:39PM

        by stretch611 (6199) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 03, @05:39PM (#1201869)

        That sounds instead like coyote food. :P

        --
        I think; therefore, I am vaccinated (and boosted.)
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 04, @09:09PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 04, @09:09PM (#1202190)

    ... the scales on whales are mainly on their tails.

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