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Animal Senses. How do animals sense stimuli? Sensory organs perceive stimuli (light, sounds, etc.) with a receptor cell. The receptor cell sends signals to the brain where they are processed and integrated. Animal Senses.

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Animal Senses

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Animal senses

Animal Senses

  • How do animals sense stimuli?

  • Sensory organs perceive stimuli (light, sounds, etc.) with a receptor cell. The receptor cell sends signals to the brain where they are processed and integrated.

Animal senses1

Animal Senses

  • Each type of animal is equipped with its own sensory receptors  each animal perceives its environment differently.

Animal senses2

Animal Senses

  • Animal senses are more varied and sharper than human senses.

  • Most sensory receptors are found on the head of an animal—in most cases, the “head” is the first part of an animal to enter a new environment

Four basic modalities

Four Basic Modalities

  • Photoreception – response to light



  • Response to heat!



  • Response to movement.

  • This includes hearing, vibration, touch, balance, etc.



  • Response to chemical energy, including smell and taste

Insect senses vision

Insect Senses - Vision

  • Compound eyes - made up of 100’s –1000’s of lenses

  • Each individual “eye” is not as accurate as a vertebrate eye, but the compound eyes taken together are better at detecting motion.

  • Respond to minute changes in color and motion—the brain produces 1 detailed image.

Insect chemical receptors

Insect – Chemical Receptors

  • For taste and smell

  • Found on mouthparts, antennae and legs.

  • A fly’s foot can tell whether a liquid contains sugar or salt.

Sensory hairs

Sensory Hairs

  • Found mostly on head and legs

  • Can detect movement in surrounding air or water, and can detect certain chemicals.

Sensory hairs detect pheremones

Sensory Hairs detect Pheremones

  • These are odor producing molecules that act as chemical messages.

  • They are synthesized by an individual, released into the environment and change the behavior of another individual.

Sensory hairs detect pheremones1

Sensory Hairs detect Pheremones

  • 1000 different insect pheremones known

  • Most are produced by females and are airborne.

  • Species specific sex attractants*.

Animal senses3

Animal Senses

  • Specific examples:

  • A homing pigeon senses changes in altitude as minute as four millimeters. Pigeons also see ultraviolet light and hear extremely low-frequency sound.

Animals detect magnetic fields

Animals detect magnetic fields

  • Used for navigation by pigeons and other birds, honeybees, sea turtles, etc.

What happens when an animal that navigates using magnetic fields has a magnet glued to its head

What happens when an animal that navigates using magnetic fields has a magnet glued to its head?

Pit vipers detect heat

Pit Vipers – Detect Heat

  • Pits are located on head of pit viper

  • Pits contain receptor cells that can detect infrared radiation (heat)

  • A pit viper is able to “see” a fuzzy image of a warm object –a pit viper can strike at a mouse in complete darkness.

Design an experiment to test if a pit is actually sensing heat

Design an experiment to test if a “pit” is actually sensing heat.

  • Is it possible the snake’s pit is simply sensing the smell of another animal?

  • Hint: Use a light bulb in your experimental set-up!

Elephants detect infrasounds

Elephants Detect Infrasounds

  • Infrasound = sound too low to be heard by the human ear

  • Elephants call to each other with infrasound and stamp their feet which create sound waves that travel through earth.

  • Infrasound can travel exceptionally long distances.

Elephants detect infrasounds1

Elephants Detect Infrasounds

  • It is hypothesized that this allows elephants to coordinate movement when they are miles apart.

  • Large elephant ears and feet (vibrations in ground) are the sense organs*

Animals detect ultrasounds

Animals Detect Ultrasounds

  • Ultrasounds = sounds too high to be heard by humans

  • Bats, dolphins, etc.*

Design an experiment to test if bats actually use ultrasounds for navigation

Design an experiment to test if bats actually use ultrasounds for navigation

Hint: Use cottonballs as part of your experimental set-up.

Aquatic predators detect electric fields

Aquatic Predators detect Electric Fields

  • Sharks (and others) can detect electrical activity in the muscles of passing prey.

Sharks and aquarium

Sharks and Aquarium

  • What problem might a shark have in a large tank in an aquarium?

Animals detect movement

Animals detect movement

  • An animal’s ear detects sound by the movement of sound waves through the air or water.

  • Mammals have bones in their middle ear that transmit the information carried in the sound waves to the brain.

Animals detect movement1

Animals detect movement

  • This includes stimulus detected by the lateral line system in fish and other aquatic vertebrates.

  • This system detects movements and pressure changes in the surrounding water.

Animals and vision

Animals and vision

  • Some animals can sense parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that are invisible to the human eye.


Human and most vertebrate senses

Human (and most vertebrate) Senses

  • Vertebrate eyes are camera eyes (vs. compound eyes of insects). Focuses incoming light onto a layer of photo-receptor cells on back of retina.

Vertebrate eyes

Vertebrate Eyes

  • Iris: The colored diaphragm in the anterior chamber of the eyeball which contracts and expands to adjust for light intensity.

  • Pupil: The opening in the center of the iris through which light passes.

  • Lens: The transparent, dual-convex body which focuses light rays onto the retina. It is normally capable of changing shape to allow the eye to focus on both near and distant images.

Vertebrate eye

Vertebrate Eye

  • Retina – Found on the back of the eye. Sensory cells contain light absorbing pigment (a molecule that absorbs only certain wavelengths of visible light and reflects or transmits other wavelengths)

    • cones = color vision

    • rods = light vision

Vertebrate eye1

Vertebrate Eye

  • The optic nerve attaches to retina and there are no photo-receptor cells at that location creating a blind spot.

  • Adaptations, such as the eye, (a characteristic that makes one individual more fit than another) do not have to be perfect.

Experiment with YOUR blind spot

Cat s eyes

Cat’s Eyes

  • A reflective layer behind the cat's retina called the tapetum reflects incoming light and bounces it back off the cones, making more use of the existing light.

  • The tapetum makes a cat's eyes look like shiny green orbs at night.

Vertebrates and taste

Vertebrates and Taste

  • Taste is a chemical sense perceived by specialized receptor cells that make up taste buds.

  • Flavor is a function of both taste and smell.

Vertebrates and smell

Vertebrates and Smell

  • Inside the nose is a big area called the “nasal cavity.”

  • On the roof of the nasal cavity are special sensory smell cells called “olfactory receptor cells.”

Vertebrates and smell1

Vertebrates and Smell

  • Smells are in the form of a gas that is breathed in when animals inhale

  • The scent molecules in the gas pass by the olfactory receptor cells on the roof of the nasal cavity.

  • The smell cells send the signal up a nerve fiber to the brain.

  • This allows vertebrates to react quickly to smells.

Other senses

Other Senses

  • Nociceptors – Sense pain

  • Thermoreceptors – Detect changes in temperature

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