Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Exceptional Animal Ears

Guest Post by PARMA Intern Alycia B.

Humans can hear up to nearly 20,000 Hz (20 kHz). However, as we get older, our hearing deteriorates and by the time we reach the age of 60, we will suffer a loss of a few thousand Hz just due to age. It's common knowledge that most animals hear better than us, but what animals are the best listeners in the animal world? 



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Animals that use echolocation are by far among the most adept in terms of hearing. Echolocation is a form of sonar where animals use frequencies to detect things in the area around them whether it is prey, a predator, or simply something in their way. Bats use echolocation due to their poor eye sight. They can hear sounds up to 210 kHz. Echolocation is also used as a form of communication for some animals. Dolphins use it to hunt and to communicate with their pods. They can hear up to 150kHz - 7.5 times as well as humans can hear.

Felines and owls are exceptional listeners due to the maneuverability of their ears. Cat's ears can rotate 180 degrees, which helps them use their 64 kHz hearing capability to their advantage. Owls can rotate their entire head a maximum of 270 degrees from side to side. Their ears are also at slightly different heights on their heads so they can get a more exact location of what they're listening to; it takes roughly .01 of a second for them to hear and pinpoint potential prey.



Another animal with unique hearing is the elephant. While their hearing range is less than humans, maxing out at 12 kHz, elephants use their legs and trunk to pick up vibrations. This enables them to hear lower sounds that are very far out of a humans normal range. This capability is assumed to be the reason why elephants can detect rain. Elephants also use low frequencies to communicate, so this special hearing trick is essential for communication from herd to herd. 



The most impressive animal hearing discovered so far (and recently) is the greater wax moth. Just to reiterate - a human can hear at 20kHz. This moth can hear at a whopping 300 kHz. These amazing bugs use their hearing with echolocation just like bats and dolphins. Their hearing is so astounding that scientists are beginning research on the moth to accelerate the development of mobile technology, hearing aids, and even new, more sophisticated microphones. 

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