While humans often think of ourselves as top of the food chain and the most advanced species on Earth, the truth is that there are many creatures in the animal kingdom that have much greater natural talent than us. Whether it’s the speed of a cheetah, strength of gorilla or the sense of a smell possessed by a bear, humans are often outperformed.
And one area where we’re definitely lacking compared to the world’s wildlife is in hearing. In fact, the anatomy and physiology of the ear can vary greatly from species to species – not to mention the frequency range of hearing, and the ability to locate.
Anatomy and Physiology of the Ear
The human ear is composed of three main parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear collects sound waves and directs them into the ear canal. The middle ear contains three bones, the malleus, incus, and stapes, that transmit the sound waves to the inner ear. The inner ear is responsible for converting the sound waves into nerve impulses, which are then sent to the brain for interpretation.
In animals, the anatomy of the ear varies greatly between species. Some animals have a simple, unstructured ear, while others have complex, specialised organs for hearing. For example, whales and dolphins have a highly developed ear that has evolved specifically for underwater hearing. Meanwhile, bats have a unique system of locating sounds using echoes. This natural version of sonar requires a complex and specialised structure within the species’ ear.
Frequency Range of Hearing
The frequency range of hearing is also different between species. Humans can hear sounds in the frequency range of 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. This range is sufficient for most human hearing needs – such as listening to music, speech, and other sounds. However, some animals can hear sounds that are far beyond the human range of hearing.
For example, dogs can hear sounds at a frequency range of 40 Hz to 60,000 Hz, while cats can hear sounds up to 80,000 Hz. Bats can hear even higher frequency sounds, which they use for echolocation.
Ability to Locate Sounds
The ability to locate sounds is also different between species. Humans have a pair of ears that work together to locate sounds. When a sound reaches one ear before the other, the brain can determine the direction of the sound. This ability is known as binaural hearing.
In animals, the ability to locate sounds varies greatly between species. Some animals, like birds and bats, have excellent directional hearing and can locate sounds with great precision. They have specialized structures in their ear that help them locate sounds in the environment.
In particular, birds have a specialised structure in their ear called the “columella” that helps them locate sounds in the environment.
As is well documented, the shape and orientation of the ear is often determined by whether the animal is a predator or prey. While big cats have ears that point forward and help them focus on their targets ahead, herbivores such as deer, rabbits and elk have ears that are located on the side of their head and able to track sound to the rear – an essential feature in helping to hear an approaching threat.
What we can say, however, is that while humans may not have the best hearing in the animal kingdom, our ability to innovate and supplement our natural hearing with hearing aids is second to none. With the help of experts like House of Hearing, humans can combat issues of hearing loss and retain one of their most important senses throughout life.