Skip to main content

Cheetahs’ ears help them run, and they’re not the only animal whose ears do double duty

Cheetahs’ ears help them run, and they’re not the only animal whose ears do double duty


Cheetahs aren’t the only ones with odd ears

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.


Animal ears may not get as much attention as cool eyes or weird noses, but the glorious cheetah owes its running prowess in part to its inner ear.

The cheetah is, famously, the fastest land animal; it can run up to 65 miles per hour. During these sprints, its muscles are straining hard, but its head remains completely still so the cheetah doesn’t lose balance. New research, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests this is because the cheetah’s inner ear (the part inside, which we don’t see) is unique among large cats.

Researchers used high-resolution imaging to look at the skulls of 21 animals, including seven modern cheetahs, other large cats, and a closely related cheetah that is now extinct. Based on the scans, the scientists created 3D images of the inner ears, and found that the cheetah ear has a bigger volume than those of other cats. Two of its three inner-ear canals are also longer. This makes it more sensitive and helps the cheetah keep its head still.

Of course, the cheetah isn’t the only animal with unusual ears. Here are a few more creatures whose ears do double duty — or are just plain weird.


Elephant Wikimedia

The African elephant is the largest land animal, and it has enormous ears to match. Of course, their hearing is excellent. They make more than 70 different calls, and they know to call during the night when it’s quieter and sound carries better. In optimum conditions, they can hear sounds from six miles away.

Elephant ears are so large not only because they funnel sound into the inner ear better, but because they can be used as fans to keep the elephants cool, scientist Joseph Soltis told Science Friday. Also, the ears can be used to make the animals more threatening — when elephants fan their ears, they look larger.

Fennec foxes

Fennec Fox Kit Born In Taronga Zoo
Photo: Animal Press / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The fennec fox is the smallest fox in the world, but it has enormous ears that stick straight up, like the ears of bats. These allow the tiny creatures to hear prey, like insects and little rodents, that are moving below the surface of the ground.

The giant ears aren’t just for hearing, however. They also function as a sort of AC: the fox lives in the desert, and the ears help the creature dissipate heat and stay cool.


Blue tang fish in front of yellow coral at Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex (Credit: Jim Maragos/USFWS)

Fish don’t exactly have external ears. Instead, they hear in a variety of ways. Many fish have a visible line across their body. This is called a lateral line, and it’s made of tiny organs that detect motion and also transmit sound vibrations to the inner ear. Other fish are able to hear because of the swim bladder, a pouch inside their bodies that helps them stay afloat. The back part of the swim bladder works like an ear drum and, again, helps transmit sound waves to the inner ear.


Just... see for yourself.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Two hours ago Not just you

Thomas RickerTwo hours ago
Table breaks before Apple Watch Ultra’s sapphire glass.

”It’s the most rugged and capable Apple Watch yet,” said Apple at the launch of the Apple Watch Ultra (read The Verge review here). YouTuber TechRax put that claim to the test with a series of drop, scratch, and hammer tests. Takeaways: the titanium case will scratch with enough abuse, and that flat sapphire front crystal is tough — tougher than the table which cracks before the Ultra fails — but not indestructible.

Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.

Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.

External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.