Exploring the hearing of extinct animals

What is research revealing about the hearing of ancient birds?

New research has revealed that Archaeopteryx's hearing was closer to later birds rather than its reptilian ancestors.

Finding out how extinct animals heard has been fraught with difficulty. Museum scientists have discovered a simple way of working out their hearing range, and even social behaviour, by studying the inner ears of living reptiles and birds.

The skulls of 59 species of modern birds and reptiles were CT-scanned to gain detailed measurements of their inner ear anatomy.

This study found that the length of the cochlear duct, the part of the bony inner ear housing hearing organ, is strongly related to both hearing range and vocal complexity. 

This method was applied to the inner ear of Archaeopteryx, which is around 147 million years old.

Information on cochlear duct length is now providing rigorous estimates of hearing ability in extinct animals.

This project was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC),