Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Snakes can Hear Stereo Sound from the Sand

30.01.2008
Biophysicists of the Technical Universtiy Munich and Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience publish in Physical Review Letters
It is often believed that snakes cannot hear. This presumption is fed by the fact that snakes lack an outer ear and that scientific evidence of snakes

Copyright 2002: R.D.L. Mastenbroek & Dexter Bressers

responding to sound is scarce. Snakes do, however, possess an inner ear with a functional cochlea.

In a recent article in Physical Review Letters* scientists from the Technical University Munich (TUM), Germany, and the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience (BCCN) present evidence that snakes use this structure to detect minute vibrations of the sand surface that are caused by prey moving. Their ears are sensitive enough to not only "hear" the prey approaching, but also to allow the brain, i.e., the auditory system, to localize the direction it is coming from. The work was carried out by J. Leo van Hemmen and Paul Friedel, scientists at the Biophysics Department of the TUM and BCCN, together with their colleague Bruce Young from the Biology Department of Washburn University at Topeka (KS, USA).

... more about:
»Sound »Surface »Vibration »Wave

Any disturbance at a sandy surface leads to vibration waves that radiate away from the source along the surface. These waves behave just like ripples on the surface of a pond after a stone is dropped into the water. The sand waves, however, propagate much quicker (the speed is about 50 meters per second) than at the water surface but on the other hand much more slowly than for instance in stone (or concrete) and the amplitude of the waves may be as small as a couple of thousands of a millimeter. Yet a snake can detect these small ripples. If it rests its head on the ground, the two sides of the lower jaw are brought into vibration by the incoming wave. These vibrations are then transmitted directly into the inner ear by means of a chain of bones attached to the lower jaw. This process is comparable to the transmission of auditory signals by the ossicles in the human middle ear. The snake thus literally hears surface vibrations.

Mammals and birds can localize a sound source by comparing the arrival times of sounds that arrive at the right and left ear through air. For sound coming from the right, the right ear will respond a fraction of a second earlier than the left ear. For sound coming from the left, the situation is exactly the other way around. From this time-of-arrival difference, the brain computes the direction that the sound comes from.

Combining approaches from biomechanics and naval engineering with the modeling of neuronal circuits, Friedel and his colleagues have shown that the snake can use its ears to perform the same trick for sound arriving through sand. The left and right side of the lower jaw of a snake are not rigidly coupled. Rather, they are connected by flexible ligaments that enable the snake to stretch its mouth enormously to swallow large prey. Both sides of the jaw can thus move independently, just like two boats floating - so to speak - on a sea of sand, and in this way allow for stereo hearing.

A sand wave originating from the right will stimulate the right side of the lower jaw slightly earlier than the left side, and vice versa. Using a mathematical model, the scientists calculated the vibration response of the jaw to an incoming surface wave. They could show that the small difference in the arrival time of the wave at the right and the left ear is sufficient for the snake's brain to calculate the direction of the sound source.

The extraordinary flexibility of the lower jaw of snakes has evolved because being able to swallow very large meals is a big advantage if food is in short supply and competition fierce. Moreover, the separation of the sides of the lower jaw also allowed this very interesting form of hearing to develop.

Paul Friedel, Bruce A. Young, and J. Leo van Hemmen
Auditory localization of ground-borne vibrations in snakes
Physical Review Letters 100, 048701 (2008)
doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.100.048701
For more information, please contact one of the authors.
Paul Friedel
Physik Department T35, TU München
Garching bei München, Germany
pfriedel@ph.tum.de
+49 89 289 12193
Prof. J. Leo van Hemmen
Physik Department T35, TU München
Garching bei München, Germany
lvh@tum.de
+49 89 289 12362
Prof. Bruce A. Young
Department of Biology
Washburn University
Topeka, KS 66621, USA
bruce.young@washburn.edu
+1 785 670 2166

Katrin Weigmann | idw
Further information:
http://www.t35.ph.tum.de/
http://www.bernstein-zentren.de/

Further reports about: Sound Surface Vibration Wave

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht The dense vessel network regulates formation of thrombocytes in the bone marrow
25.07.2017 | Rudolf-Virchow-Zentrum für Experimentelle Biomedizin der Universität Würzburg

nachricht Fungi that evolved to eat wood offer new biomass conversion tool
25.07.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA mission surfs through waves in space to understand space weather

25.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Strength of tectonic plates may explain shape of the Tibetan Plateau, study finds

25.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

The dense vessel network regulates formation of thrombocytes in the bone marrow

25.07.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>