For example, in 373 B.C., historians recorded that rats ran for their lives away from the Greek city of Helice, just before an earthquake leveled it. While the information that drove the rats to flee in that case remains a mystery, we at least know more now about how rat sensory abilities work. In terms of tracking wind flow, that phenomenon is known as anemotaxis.
"Our results indicate that rats can perform anemotaxis and that whiskers greatly facilitate this ability," lead author Yan Yu, of Northwestern University's Department of Mechanical Engineering, and colleagues wrote.
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The researchers investigated rats' wind-whisker interaction by placing five similarly aged female rats, trained to locate airflow sources from a fan, on a circular table. Along the table's circumference, five computerized fans were positioned equidistant from one another and randomly turned on one at a time.
Rewarded at first with water and later a sugary solution, the rats searched for the source of the wind in a series of experiments conducted over a 10-day period. As this occurred, the scientists gathered data on the rats' navigation skills.
Here's what happened in slow motion: