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The perception of sound by animals through specialized sense organs. A sense of hearing is possessed by animals belonging to two divisions of the animal kingdom: the vertebrates and the insects. The sense is mediated by the ear, a specialized organ for the reception of vibratory stimuli. Such an organ is found in all except the most primitive vertebrates, but only in some of the many species of insects. The vertebrate and insect types of ear differ in evolutionary origin and in their modes of operation, but both have attained high levels of performance in the reception and discrimination of sounds.

The vertebrate ear is a part of the labyrinth, located deep in the bone or cartilage of the head, one ear on either side of the brain. A complex assembly of tubes and chambers contains a membranous structure which bears within it a number of sensory endings of different kinds. Beginning with the amphibians, which are the earliest vertebrates to spend a considerable portion of their lives on land, there appears a special mechanism, the middle ear, whose function is the transmission of aerial vibrations to the sensory endings of the inner ear. All the vertebrates above the fishes, and certain of the fishes as well, have some type of sound-facilitative mechanism. See Ear (vertebrate), Hearing (vertebrate)

The group of invertebrates which has received the most attention has been the insects. Other arthropods, such as certain crustaceans and spiders, have also been found to be sensitive to sound waves. The insect ear consists of a superficial membrane of thin chitin with an associated group of sensilla called scolophores. These ears are found in most species of katydids, crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas, waterboatmen, mosquitoes, and nocturnal and spinner moths. The occur in different places in the body: on the antennae of mosquitoes, on the forelegs of katydids and crickets, on the metathorax of cicadas and waterboatmen, and on the abdomen of grasshoppers. Probably these differently situated organs represent separate evolutionary developments, through the association of a thinned-out region of the body wall with sensilla that are found extensively in the bodies of insects and that by themselves seem to serve for movement perception.

The insects mentioned above are noted for their production of stridulatory sounds made by rubbing the edges of the wings together, or a leg against a wing, or by other means. These sounds are produced by the males and serve for enticing the females in mating. A striking adaptation is that shown by mosquitoes: The ear of the male mosquito is sensitive only to a narrow range of frequencies around 380 Hz, and this frequency is the one which is produced by the wings of the female in flight. If the ear of the male mosquito is made nonfunctional, the mosquito fails to find a mate.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


The perception of sound through specialized sense organs.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.