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Animal Hearing: Best and Worst

Hearing is a sense we use every day as humans. We use it to evade danger, talk to loved ones and communicate with everything around us. The average hearing range for a human is between 20 Hz to 20 kHz and uses three muscles to aid the hearing process. There are, however, animals who have better hearing than that of humans.

What are the best hearing animals?

  • Moth:  Recently, moths have been named as having the best hearing in the world, in both the animal and human kingdoms. The evolution of the moths hearing over time may be due to having to evade the threat of their main predator, the Bat. Moths have the ability to hear a higher frequency than bats, allowing them to escape before they can be attacked.
  • Bat:  A well-known trait of the bat is the exceptional hearing they have. Bats have notoriously bad eyesight, being blind for the most part; therefore, they rely heavy on their hearing. Using echolocation, a bat can squeak whilst in flight and navigate their way to where they need to be. The sound vibrations they emit through squeaking bounces off any nearby surfaces back to the bat, allowing them to know where the surface is.

  • Owl:  Being a nocturnal animal, owls rely on both their sharp sight and their hearing. Most species of owls have crooked ears; one placed slightly more forward and one placed higher than the other. The difference in the placement of their ears allows them to pin point exactly where a sound is coming from and aid them in capturing their prey, who are usually small and in the dark. This survivalist hearing helps the owl whilst hunting in the dark.
  • Elephant:  Elephants use their hearing and, most importantly, their ears for many important reasons. As well as having brilliant hearing, with an average range of 16 – 12,000 Hz, an elephant will use its ears to help them keep cool. In the hot climates where they live, the large surface area and thinness of the ears help regulate the mammal’s body temperature, keeping it cooler for longer.

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  • Dog:  When you come home and your pet dog is wagging its tail, all happy to see you, you’d think it would be because they heard you come through the front door. In actual fact, a dog’s hearing is highly sensitive and can hear frequencies above that of what a human can hear (and often respond better to these frequencies then lower tones). A dog’s hearing is so sensitive that they can usually hear you are home before you even open the door.
  • Cat:  Not only is a cat’s hearing immensely impressive with an average range of between 45Hz – 64,000Hz, they are also mechanically impressive. A human ear consists of three muscles and the three smallest bones in the body; a cat’s ears are controlled by around three dozen muscles per ear which allows them to rotate their ears 180 degrees for a fully peripheral coverage.

  • Horse:  Have you ever seen all the horses in a herd lying down at the same time? A herd of horses will always have at least one lookout, to warn others of potential dangers that may be around them. A horses hearing is essential to the protection of the herd. The main functions a horses hearing are to detect the sound, determine where it is coming from, to identify what the sound is and know whether it’s time to warn the herd or not. Horses also use their ears to communicate their mood and can express feelings through facial expressions.
  • Dolphin:  Dolphins have exceptional hearing as well as eyesight and, interestingly enough, also use echolocation to “hear” where they are going (similar to bats). A dolphin will emit a sound, a squeak in this case, that will bounce off the surfaces and back to the dolphin’s lower jaw. The bounce back of sound vibrations gives a sound map of what might be coming up ahead. The detail of the sound map is impressive and allows a dolphin to, not only hunt effectively, but also avoid any danger that might be ahead.
  • Rat:  Rats are particularly good at pinpointing the exact location of where a sound is coming from, due to their ears being so close together. Animals who may be albino historically have problems with their hearing, particularly cats and humans. Rats, however, appear to keep their hearing and don’t suffer from any type of hearing loss what might appear in other animals. A rats range falls in the ultrasound category, which are sounds that are too high for a human to hear.
  • Pigeon:  Pigeons can hear infrasound, sounds that are much lower than a human can hear. With the average pigeon being able to hear sounds as low as 0.5 Hz, they can detect distant storms, earthquakes and even volcanoes. With their exceptional hearing ability and their navigational skills, they are named as the best navigators in the world.

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What are the worst hearing animals?

Information on deafness in other animals is scarce.

  • Armadillos: According to anecdotes, these are reported to all have very poor hearing.
  • Bears: The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore (formerly Baltimore Zoo) has a deaf polar bear named Alaska, 10 years old in 2003.
  • Birds: There is a report that an (unidentified) study found that deaf wild birds make bad parents, because they cannot hear their offspring calling for food. There are also unconfirmed reports of some pet birds being found to be deaf.
  • Ferrets: As with many other mammals, deafness in ferrets is fairly common in individuals having whiteness in their coats, though the whiteness need not be total. Many individual deaf ferrets have apparently normal coloration, with only small to tiny amounts of whiteness, often in obscure spots. The Waardenburg syndrome responsible for hereditary deafness in some humans has also been identified in ferrets. 
  • Goats: There is a breed of milk goats called LaMancha, in which all individuals nearly or completely lack the external ear pinna (flap or cup). Contrary to popular impression, however, LaMancha goats are not deaf. They still have an external ear opening, normal inner ears, and hear just fine. 
  • Horses: Several deaf horses have been reported. Unfortunately, information is lacking on how the horses became deaf — whether from hereditary factors, illness, injuries, or other factors.
  • Llamas and alpacas: These animals, native to South America but used in North America for their wool or as pets or even as herd guards, often have hereditary deafness in white-fleeced individuals.
  • Mice: There is a strain of congenitally deaf laboratory mice (mutant strain dn/dn) that are used in some laboratory experiments related to deafness.
  • Minks: As with other mammals, there tends to be a correlation between white coats and deafness in minks.
  • Octopi, squids, and cuttlefish (coleoid cephalopods): All are truly deaf, completely lacking any kind of acoustic receptors.
  • Sea lions: The Brookfield Zoo near Chicago, IL, has a deaf sea lion named Harley.
  • Snakes: In the early 1950s, there were newspaper reports that “research” had shown snakes to be completely deaf. This is incorrect. Although they have no external ear openings, snakes do have internal ears, and can hear some sounds although poorly.
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Animals have a range of hearing as do people.  If you want to improve your hearing, contact Lansdowne Hearing.

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