Next time you take an over-eager bite into an ice cream and get that excruciating sensitive tooth feeling, take a moment to thank the universe for not making you a narwhal.
New research has discovered that the narwhal’s distinctive ‘horn’ is in fact a very, very sensitive tooth.
Previous theories pegged the appendage as used in mating displays, fighting off rival males and even as an icepick. Now however, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (that’s right, dentists studying whales!), has discovered the horn functions as a sensory organ.
Sea water enters tiny channels within the tooth and flow down toward the hypersensitive nerve endings at the base, before exiting. In this way, the creature can sense a whole spectrum of chemical changes around itself, including those needed to find food or a prospective mate.
“This is the first time that someone has discovered sensory function and has the science to show it,” said the leader of the study, Martin Nweeia, in a BBC interview.
It kind of ruins their image as the unicorns of the sea when you find out that a male narwhal’s majestic horn is an overgrown left canine. Still, this modified tooth breaks through the upper lip and can extend up to eight and a half feet!
Via Tech Times