Using animals to explore the ‘rather wondrous’ sensory abilities of humans | CBC Radio

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Creator Jackie Higgins says there’s way more to our senses than meets the attention — or ear, nostril or tongue.

To start with, the concept people possess simply 5 senses — sight, odor, style, contact and listening to — will be thrown out the window.

“Most scientists and neuroscientists these days would say we’ve upwards of twenty-two senses,” Higgins advised CBC As It Occurs host Carol Off.

Utilizing 12 animals as case research, Higgins honed in on 12 of these senses in her forthcoming guide, Sentient: What Animals Reveal About Our Senses.

By specializing in the outstanding skills of particular species, the animal kingdom can function “a mirror that we are able to maintain up and get a clearer image of ourselves,” Higgins defined. 

Want’s within the air 

Take Europe’s large peacock moth species, whose females are capable of launch pheromones, “which male moths can odor from as much as three miles away,” Higgins stated.

Smitten, the male moths cease what they’re doing to hint the pheromones again to a keen mate.

“There’s a massive humdinger of a debate as as to whether people sense pheromones. I take a look at that and I playfully name the chapter the sense of need,” she stated.

Large peacock moths aren’t the one species that is extremely inclined to pheromones. Pheromones are additionally utilized by people to fight invasive species, like this grownup oriental fruit moth, by complicated the males and stopping them from mating. (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Meals and Rural Affairs)

Although pheromones could not be capable of management our behaviour in the best way they do for peacock moths, Higgins makes use of the species as a jumping-off level for a dialogue on the best way olfaction influences mate choice for people.

Selecting a co-parent based mostly on what you odor — nevertheless unconsciously — is “an evolutionary tactic that allows you to construct immune variety inside your offspring, in order that they’ll be ruddy cheeked, wholesome little infants,” she stated with fun. 

Time and area

Trashline orbweavers, a species of spider discovered all through the world, are the poster kids for Higgins’s chapter on sensing time.

Scientists learning the orbweavers “observed that these spiders have been waking earlier than dawn each morning to rebuild their nests. They have been utilizing their physique clock,” she stated.

Not solely that, the spiders are on an 18-and-a-half-hour cycle, in order that they’re “having to regulate on a regular basis.”

“Scientists need to take a look at them to grasp if they’ve some traits that allow us to cross time zones and never endure jet lag,” Higgins stated.

One other star species in Sentient is the bar-tailed godwit, whose epic migration throughout the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to New Zealand is the longest-known continuous flight of any hen.

Birds possess the power to detect a magnetic area to understand path, altitude or location, known as magnetoreception. It is an particularly helpful sense throughout migration. (Reuters)

Birds just like the godwits, Higgins says, have magnetoreception, that means they’ll sense magnetic fields to information their sense of path.

Whether or not people can do the identical is unproven, she continued — however analysis is wanting promising.

Higgins factors to work being performed on the California Institute of Know-how that has unearthed “some actually attention-grabbing and tantalizing proof to recommend that we’re capable of sense modifications in magnetic fields.”

A ‘joyful message’ about human means

Higgins, who was a zoology scholar of Richard Dawkins and who went on to make wildlife and science movies, credit her love of the pure world to her mom.

“I spent my childhood rock-hopping and turning up stones in rock swimming pools and prodding and poking and being curious,” she stated.

With Sentient, Higgins hopes that readers are capable of be taught extra about their very own skills, but additionally to embrace the connection they share with all dwelling issues.

“You are associated to your canine, but additionally that slice of lettuce you had at lunchtime,” she stated with a chuckle.

“It is necessary that we ourselves keep in mind that we’re slightly wondrous,” she continued. “It is a joyful message.”


Interview produced by Kate Swoger. Story written by Kate McGillivray.

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