Animals with the best sense of hearing in the world

Posted on Jan 27, 2008 in Size


Sharpest hearing – The owl

These birds have phenomenal hearing. Their large ear holes are at slightly different heights, above and below eye level, helping them pinpoint the vertical positions of sound sources. But what is truly astonishing is their reaction time. In complete darkness, it takes tawny owls less than 0.01 of a second to assess the precise direction of a scurrying mouse, for example.




Best natural sonar system – Bats & dolphins

Bats and dolphins find their way in complete darkness, or murky waters, using a biological sonar system called echolation. This involves emitting ultrasonic chirps (or clicks) and interpreting the echo the sound waves make after bouncing off objects and other creatures in their vicinity.

Echolation is so accurate that with each chirp, a bat or dolphin can tell the location, size, direction and even the physical nature of an object.

Bat echolation

If you’re an insect flying 15-20 feet away from a bat in complete darkness - you’ve had it! Remarkably, bats prevent damage to their own ears by closing them with every wing stroke.

Dolphin echolation

An echolating dolphin can detect a 2.5 cm object, such as a big coin, from over 70 metres away.


Best rain detector – The elephant

Elephants have an exceptional sense of hearing (and smell) and can hear at frequencies twenty times lower than us.  They also use their trunk and feet to hear, both of which are packed with special receptors to pick up on low frequency vibrations. Their exceptional hearing ability helps them ‘tune into’ things such as thunderstorms and explains the well observed phenomenon that elephants are always the first animals to move towards rain. And it is believed their low rumble calls can be picked up by other elephants 6 km away.  One essential reason for such long distance conversation is for females to be able to make as many males in the area aware that she is ready to mate – something that happens only a few days every 2-4 years.


Best navigator using sound – The pigeon

Like elephants, pigeons can hear sounds at exceptionally low frequencies and this helps to explain their exceptional sense of direction. For example, steep hillsides reflect airbourne sound waves horizontally, providing a unique low-frequency beacon that pigeons can perceive for hundreds of miles. And there is vast source of such infra-sound in nature - thunderstorms, seismic activity, even the motion of the sea – allowing pigeons to build an acoustic landscape which is totally unknown to us. Pigeons also possess the equivalent of an in-built compass which allows them to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field and the position of the Sun. In combination with their hearing – this makes them, probably, the best navigators in nature.


Cats vs. dogs – Cats

Cats win. Not only can they hear higher frequencies than us (and dogs), they can distinguish a sound’s tone and locate its source far better too. With 30 different muscles, the cat can independently rotate each of its ears 180 degrees, and position one ear or both facing any sound the cat detects. And thanks to their shape, sound gets funnelled down to a cat’s middle ear extremely effectively. So effectively, in fact, that from a metre away your average moggy can easily distinguish the sound of you opening the door to the cat food cupboard from the sound of you opening the cupboard door next to it.


Best hearing defence – The tiger moth

Bats use echolation – (read above) – to detect prey in the dark.  However some moths, such as the tiger moth have evolved super sensitive ears that can hear bats ultrasonic chirps. So when they hear a bat closing in on them – they can take evasive action, often resulting in a dramatic aerial acrobatic contest between predator and prey; which, more often than not, the bat would win. So moths got smarter. Instead of just taking evasive action, they emitted sound back to bat, often emitting as many as 450 clicks in 1/10th of a second. Such action effectively jams the bat’s sonar and confuses them, allowing the moth to fly another day.


Can bulls see red?

Answer : The short answer is no. Bulls, like many other animals, can only see blue and a mix of red and green. Outside of these colours, everything else a bull sees is a shade of grey. Bulls charge at a matador’s cape not because of the colour but because of the matador’s grand and theatrical cape-waving gestures. In fact, the cape could be any colour including polka dotted canary yellow - although one suspects the macho matadors might complain.


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