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Tactile croc jaws more sensitive than human fingertips
Date:11/7/2012

Armoured in elaborate scales, the skins of crocodiles and alligators are much prized by the fashion industry. But sadly, not all skins are from farmed animals. Some are from endangered species and according to Ken Catania from Vanderbilt University, USA, sometimes the only way to distinguish legitimate hides from poached skins is to look at the distribution of thousands of microscopic pigmented bumps that pepper crocodiles' bodies. Adding that the minute dome organs are restricted to the faces of alligators, Catania puzzled, 'What are the organs for?' Explaining that they have been proposed to detect subtle shifts in water salinity and shown to sense ripples in water, Catania says, 'We suspected that there might be more to the story', so he and Duncan Leitch teamed up to take a closer look at the small structures. The duo discovered that the bumps are tactile and even more touch sensitive than human fingertips. They publish their discovery in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org.

Observing the skin of American alligators and Nile crocodiles with scanning electron microscopy, Leitch could see that each dome was surrounded by a hinge depression. And when he sliced through a series of domes to identify the sensory receptor structures beneath, he found sensitive free nerve endings near the dome surface, and laminated corpuscle structures which are vibration sensitive and dermal Merkel complexes which respond to sustained pressure in the lowest skin layer.

Next, Leitch stained the nerve structures leading from the skin through the reptile's jaw and painstakingly traced the sensitive trigeminal nerve as it branched to the domes. 'The innervation of these jaws was incredible!' exclaims Catania. The entire jaw was infiltrated with a delicate network of nerves. 'There was a tremendous number of nerve endings and each of the nerve endings comes out of a
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Contact: kathryn Knight
kathryn@biologists.com
44-078-763-44333
The Company of Biologists
Source:Eurekalert

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