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Scientists discover reason behind ear canal in Chinese frog: Ultrasonic communication

A rare frog that lives in rushing streams and waterfalls of east-central China is able to make itself heard above the roar of flowing water by communicating ultrasonically, says new research funded in part by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one of the National Institutes of Health. According to the study, which appears in the March 16, 2006, issue of Nature, attributes that enable the frog to hear ultrasounds are made possible by the presence of an ear canal, which most other frogs don't have. The research may provide a clue into why humans and other animals also have ear canals: to hear high-frequency sounds.

Amolops tormotus, also referred to as the concave-eared torrent frog, is the first non-mammalian species found to be capable of producing and detecting ultrasounds for communication, much like dolphins, bats, and some rodents. It does so, the researchers report, to make itself heard above the din of low-frequency sounds produced in its surroundings so that it can communicate territorial information to other males of its species. In addition to helping researchers puzzle out how the ear evolved, the research may one day enable scientists to develop new strategies or technologies that help people to hear in environments in which there is a lot of background noise.

"In the study of communication and communication disorders, researchers can gain a great deal of insight by looking at the natural world," says James F. Battey, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIDCD. "The more we can learn about the extraordinary mechanisms that Amolops and other animals have developed to hear and communicate with one another, the more fully we can understand the hearing process in humans, and the more inspired we can be in developing new treatments for hearing loss."

Ultrasounds are high-pitched sounds more than 20 kilohertz (kHz) in frequency, exceeding the upper limit of sounds detectable by
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Contact: Jennifer Wenger
jwenger@mail.nih.gov
301-496-7243
NIH/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
15-Mar-2006


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