Captain's Cabin

Pirate Lord of the Platinum Coast
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Monday, July 2, 2012

Myth Monday - Can you hear what I hear?

Feline Ears

Some humans think cats are psychic - and I have met some cats who think they are psychic too. (Not like Tabby Brofur, who is psychotic.) But truth is we only seem that way because we anticipate things based on clues we get from the environment around us.

Our senses are very acute, more so than humans in most cases, so while we interpret what we perceive, they think we are actually picking up psychic signals.

One of sharpest senses we have is that of hearing. Humans and cats have a similar range of hearing on the low end of the scale, but cats can hear much higher-pitched sounds, up to 64 kHz, which is 1.6 octaves above the range of a human, and even 1 octave above the range of a dog.

Humans are most sensitive to sounds of around 3000 Hz (most human voices are near that pitch), while you are most sensitive to sounds of around 8000 Hertz. This does not mean we don't like to listen to our human's voice! We most certainly do.

One of the reasons for our extraordinarily good hearing is our outer ear or "pinna". Feline pinna are large, erect, and cone-shaped.  They act to both catch and amplify sound waves. Cats' ears amplify sound waves two to three times for frequencies between 2000 and 6000 Hertz (Hz).

When we are listening for something, our ears will swivel in the direction if the sound. Our pinna can independently point backwards as well as forwards and sideways to pinpoint the source of the sound. Our pinna can move around as much as 180 degrees, doing so by virtue of about 30 sets of muscles (humans have only six sets).

We can judge within three inches (7.5 cm) the location of a sound being made one yard (approximately 91 cm) away — this can be useful for locating our prey. Our pinna enables us to lock into sound sources, but even we cannot move our ears fast enough to localize sounds

Localizing sound - that is identifying the location of the source of a sound - depends on processing the difference in both arrival time and the intensity of the sound as it arrives first at one ear, then the other. Because sound travels in waves, these differences are more apparent in smaller wave (higher frequency) sounds, and in fact are hard to detect if the sound waves are larger than the ears are spaced apart.

For this reason, smaller animals have their ears far to the side of their head, and more importantly, are able to hear higher frequencies.

The pinna funnels the sound waves into the ear canal where the waves strike the ear drum. When the ear drum vibrates, it causes the three tiny ossicles (bones) to move, which in turn push on a membrane at one end of the cochlea. The cochlea is filled with fluid, so when the membrane is pushed it causes waves in the fluid. These waves flow over tiny hair-like cells that are sticking inward from the floor of the cochlea, causing some hair cells to move.

Each hair cell sends a signal to the brain when it is moved, and depending on which cells are moved, you hear different pitched sounds. It is in these last steps that hereditary deafness usually disrupts.

Because of our great reliance on our hearing for hunting, deafness can be worse for a cat than blindness.

Deafness is associated with white coat color in cats, but not all white cats are deaf. Deafness is most likely to appear in cats with the dominant white (W) gene. Cats can also be white due to the white spotting gene, but deafness is not associated with that gene.

According to one study, about 40 percent of white cats are deaf in both ears and 12 percent deaf in one ear. White cats with two white parents are more likely to be deaf in one or both ears. Cats with two blue eyes are more likely to be deaf than cats with one blue eye, and both are more likely to be deaf than cats with no blue eyes.

Sometimes hearing loss can happen in other ways, the most common being an untreated ear mite infestation. That is why it is important for your human to check your pinna, even though, like you, I really don't like having my pinna handled.

Your human can check your hearing by making startling sounds or hissing noises where you can’t see them (or other cats that may respond) or can’t feel any vibrations or wind currents.

Deaf cats or cats with significant hearing loss can learn to respond to vibrations and hand signals, but should be protected from outdoor dangers as they cannot hear them approaching.

While it might be fun to know what the humans are thinking sometimes, we don't really know any better than they do because of some mystical sixth sense.  Like humans, we only have five senses, but they are VERY good ones!


Angel MoMo's mom said...

Always interesting to come and read your writing.

Yes, I am still visiting even with MoMo gone. I miss her so.

Katie and Glogirly said...

Glogirly & Gloman can't get ANYTHING past me.
I hear everything!!!
; ) Katie