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Evolution of the Middle Ear

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Our middle ear apparatus helps to transmit sound vibrations in air through to the fluid-filled cochlea. It begins with the eardrum, to which is connected three tiny bones or ossicles, the malleus, incus and stapes (hammer, anvil and stirrup). These are the smallest and most delicate bones in the human body, which you would expect given their function in transmitting sound vibrations. However, one particular golden mole from Southern Africa, if it were the size of a man, would have a malleus the size of your fist, made of solid bone, in each of its ears! Why would it have such monstrous mallei? In this lecture, I shall explore the strange adaptations of the middle ear apparatus in subterranean mammals, and explain how, from a onsideration of these structures, we can get information about an animal’s hearing. To what extent does the evolution of the middle ear reflect the ecology of the animal?

This talk is part of the SciSoc – Cambridge University Scientific Society series.

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