Sirenians, including Florida manatees, possess an array of hairs and bristles on the face. These are distributed in a pattern involving nine distinct regions of the face, unlike that of any other mammalian order. Some of these bristles and hairs are known to be used in tactile exploration and in grasping behaviors. In the present study we characterized the microanatomical structure of the hair and bristle follicles from the nine regions of the face. All follicles had the attributes of vibrissae, including a dense connective tissue capsule, prominent blood sinus complex, and substantial innervation. Each of the nine regions of the face exhibited a distinct combination of these morphological attributes, congruent with the previous designation of these regions based on location and external morphological criteria. The present data suggest that perioral bristles in manatees might have a tactile sensory role much like that of vibrissae in other mammals, in addition to their documented role in grasping of plants during feeding. Such a combination of motor and sensory usages would be unique to sirenians. Finally, we speculate that the facial hairs and bristles may play a role in hydrodynamic reception.

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