There are so many cool things about cats that it’s hard to name them all, but one of the most amazing is the cat’s ear.
The ear of the cat serves so many more functions than just hearing – though a cat’s hearing is truly astounding! Believe it or not, cats actually have better hearing than dogs – they can hear a much broader range of sounds than dogs can, and can hear sounds that are much higher pitched. Cats can also hear tiny variances in sound, helping them to pinpoint the smallest movements of prey from feet away.
Cat ears are controlled by 32 muscles (many more than human ears). These tiny muscles in a cat’s ear control the movements of the cat’s ear flaps, allowing them to move up and down, and turn 180 degrees to better locate the source of sounds.
The muscles of the cat’s ear also help to move the ear into positions that indicate a broad range of emotions. For example, if a cat moves her ears to the sides and down, like airplane wings, it is an indication that she feels threatened or uneasy. Forward facing ears indicate curiosity or interest – this position also allows for sounds to more easily “cup” into the shape of the ear, which helps the cat interpret noises. Flicking ears indicate agitation, and if the ear is facing to the side with rapid flicking, this points to high arousal and increased agitation that could lead to an adverse response. When a cat’s ears move to flat against the head, this is a clear fear or anger response, and the threat had best get out of the way (if it’s you, you’d better stop what you’re doing or face the claws and teeth!)
Another amazing fact is that the cat’s ear is critical to balance. Tiny fluid-filled canals in the ear tell the cat’s brain which way it is moving, and the vestibule transmits information on whether the cat is right-side up or upside-down. This info is what makes it possible for the cat to right itself in a fall – this is commonly called the “righting reflex”. The righting reflex allows a cat to do the seemingly impossible task of turning itself in midair during a fall and to land squarely on all four feet.
There are genetic variances that have to do with a cat’s ears, as well. For example, white cats have a greater chance of being born deaf than cats of other colors. White cats with blue eyes have up to an 85% chance of being deaf. This is all due to the fact that these cats are likely to have abnormalities in the cochlea, the part of the ear that is responsible for sending sound signals to the brain. Genetic variances also occur in cats whose ears are curled or folded, such as the Scottish Fold or the American Curl – these cats are born with a mutation in the genes that affect the cartilage formation in the ears.
A cat’s ears are just one of the many characteristics that make up the remarkable feline.