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Ultrasonic frogs can tune their ears to different frequencies
Date:7/22/2008

Researchers have discovered that a frog that lives near noisy springs in central China can tune its ears to different sound frequencies, much like the tuner on a radio can shift from one frequency to another. It is the only known example of an animal that can actively select what frequencies it hears, the researchers say.

The findings, from a collaborative effort led by the University of Illinois and the University of California at Los Angeles, appear this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research team also included scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (at Harvard Medical School).

The discovery was made when researchers examined the eardrums of an unusual frog, Odorrana tormota, which communicates by making birdlike calls in the audible and ultrasonic frequency ranges. Previous research by two of the authors showed that the frog produces and responds to ultrasonic calls. In the new study they sought to determine whether the frog's eardrums actually vibrate in response to these ultra high frequency sounds.

Using a laser vibrometer to measure the eardrum's vibration, the researchers found that the eardrum did respond to sounds in the sonic and ultrasonic ranges. But they also saw something they couldn't explain: The eardrum's sensitivity to ultrasound sometimes disappeared altogether.

Normally sound waves strike the eardrum and if they are powerful enough and in a frequency range that the animal can perceive cause the eardrum to vibrate. In most studies of frogs, the eardrum responds exactly the same way to the same sound stimulus. Even the eardrums of a dead frog will respond with unchanging predictability.

Past research showed that a frog's eardrum never responds differently to the same sound stimulus, said team leader Albert Feng, a professor of molecular and integrative physiology at Illinois.

"This was co
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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@illinois.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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