I don’t know about you, but I love cats’ ears. These devices at the forefront of cat anatomy come in so many shapes and sizes, it’s hard to imagine that every single pair of cat ears shares some cool traits. Lucky for me, my cats are “Ferengi cats” (yes, I’m a Star Trek geek) and they love having their ears rubbed. But there’s more to the ears than just good looks; there’s some serious science going on inside those pointy protrusions, too. Here are some facts about your cat’s ears.
Each ear is controlled by 32 tiny muscles that allow the ear to rotate a full 180 degrees, giving your cat the ability to pinpoint a noise from any direction with super accuracy. According to Animal Planet, a cat as far away as 3 feet from the origin of a sound can pinpoint its location to within a few inches in less time than it takes to blink your eyes.
We all think of the dog as the grand champion of hearing ability, but the truth is that cats can hear much lower and higher frequencies than dogs can. A cat’s range of hearing is from 45 to 64,000 hertz, while a dog’s is 67 to 45,000 hertz. Humans are positively deaf in comparison, coming in at a range from 64 to 23,000 hertz. That means cats can hear noises well into the ultrasonic range, making them uniquely equipped to stalk their rodent prey.
As with all mammals, a cat’s ears also serve as a vital tool in helping her keep her balance. Deep inside her ears is a tiny little gyroscope composed of three semicircular canals filled with fluid and lined with tiny hairs, and another body called the vestibule. The movement of fluid over the hairs in the semicircular canals tells your cat which way she’s moving, and the vestibule transmits information to the brain about whether your cat is right side up, upside down, or somewhere in between. All of these signals inform the righting reflex, which allows your cat to make the bodily adjustments that will allow her to land on her feet … most of the time.
According to International Cat Care, white cats with blue eyes are 3 to 5 times more likely to be deaf than white cats with non-blue eyes. The odds of deafness are even greater in long-haired white cats with blue eyes. This is due to a pleiotropic gene – that is, one that has multiple effects. It happens that the gene W, which codes for completely white fur, also codes for blue eyes and for abnormalities in the cochlea, the part of the ear that sends sound signals to the brain. These abnormalities lead to deafness.
The cute, flopped-over ears of the Scottish Fold and the reverse-curled ears of the American Curl are both caused by mutations in the genes that form cartilage, the soft but flexible stuff that gives our own ears their shape and cushions the ends of our bones. The American Curl’s mutation affects only ear cartilage, but the Scottish Fold’s affects all the body’s cartilage; therefore, the Fold is more prone to bone deformities and arthritis than other breeds.
Is there anything else you’d like to know about your cat’s ears? Let me know in the comments, and maybe I’ll write another post about the cat’s amazing ears.
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.