Ultrasonic frogs discovered in China

Researchers have discovered the existence of frogs in central China whose ears can tune to different frequencies. No joke.

When I was a kid, my mother would complain that I'd tune her out whenever it came to taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn. In other words, when it came to all the stuff I didn't want to do.

"You have your own radio frequency in your head," she would say in mock--and sometimes, real annoyance.

Odorrana tormota lives in a noisy environment on the brushy edge of streams in the Huangshan Hot Springs, in central China, where waterfalls and rushing water create a steady din. Albert S. Feng, University of Illinois.

Turns out I wasn't so special after all. Researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of California, Los Angeles have turned up a frog in central China whose ears can shift to different sound frequencies. The analogy offered by the researchers, who also included scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (at Harvard Medical School), is that of a radio tuner.

Their work appears this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What is the frequency, Kenneth? Albert S. Feng, University of Illinois

The findings appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The University of Illinois and the University of California, Los Angeles spearheaded the research team, which also included scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (at Harvard Medical School).

I spoke with Albert Feng, a professor of molecular and integrative physiology at University of Illinois, who noted that this particular frog, known as "Odorrana tormota," is the only known animal that actively selects what frequencies it hears. He pointed out that the frogs seem to possess an ability to tune in to specific sound frequencies as circumstances change. For instance, when the low frequency background noise makes it too difficult for them to discern the calls of potential mates or rivals, the frogs' hearing can switch to high frequency and ultrasonic hearing levels.

There's a reason why people outside of frog enthusiasts and people with very weird hobbies should care. Earlier research into the mechanics of frog hearing helped Feng and his colleagues design an "intelligent hearing aid" that boosts sound signals. You can click below to listen to excerpts from the audio interview.

AUDIO

What is the frequency, Kermit?
University of Illinois professor Albert Feng says the frog known as "Odorrana tormota" is the only known animal that actively selects what frequencies it hears.
Download mp3 (3.78 MB)

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About the author

Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.

 

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