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Hearing is critical to almost all living creatures; even though scientists have found several species of blind amphibians, fishes, reptiles, and mammals, no deaf vertebrate species have been identified. But, doesn’t necessarily take ears to hear. Sounds waves – vibrations in the air – can be perceived in a variety of ways. Vertebrates have ears. But, invertebrates possess other types of sensory organs to detect sounds.

In the case of insects, they have extremely sensitive tympanal organs which offer excellent hearing capabilities. Certain fly species can locate their prey exclusively via its song from a substantial distance. Spiders and cockroaches have tiny hairs on their legs that they use to pick up sounds, and caterpillars have similar sound-receiving hairs on their bodies. Elephants not only have large ears, they can also hear using their feet. They are particularly attuned to low-frequency sounds, and can detect the sound of thunderstorms or the deep-voiced call of other elephants many kilometers away.

Fish are interesting too. Fish don’t have ears, but are able to perceive sounds underwater using lateral lines that run horizontally along the length of their bodies. A marine mammal, dolphins have no ears, but have eardrums on the outside of their bodies that give them the best sense of hearing among animals, over 14 times better than human hearing.

Many animals not only hear better than we do, they hear more sounds, easily detecting sounds in frequency ranges far below or above the frequencies that we humans can hear. Cats have the most acute hearing among animals we have domesticated as pets; while humans can only hear sounds between 64 and 23,000 Hz, cats can hear sounds between 45 and 64,000 Hz. Birds, especially owls, have excellent hearing. Owls are particularly skilled at detecting the precise location of a sound – and detecting it very quickly. They can pin-point the origin of a mouse scurrying in under 0.01 seconds. Echolocation is an extension of hearing often considered it own sense since it functions like sonar. Bats and dolphins emit small click or chirps which bounce off of surrounding objects and return to them. They are essentially using sound waves as a tool to “see” their surroundings. Using echolocation, bats and dolphins can determine a great deal about objects they can’t even see, including the objects’ size, location, and even their physical nature. Dolphins can use echolocation to detect objects the size of a small coin over 70 meters away. A bat can detect an insect 30 feet away in complete darkness.

Looking at the animal world is a great reminder of how vitally important hearing is.