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Palaeontology: Herd of hearing

Credit: NHM

Proc. R. Soc. B doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.1390 (2009)

If you want to know what Archaeopteryx sounded like, a first step is to work out what it could hear.

Working with specimens of 59 extant species of reptile and bird (including the barn owl, skull pictured left), Paul Barrett of London's Natural History Museum and his colleagues measured the length of a duct found in the bony part of the inner ear. They show that this length correlates with the hearing range and best hearing frequency of the animals, and can also be used as a guide to the complexity of their calls.

This relationship allows the first quantitative assessment of the hearing ability of extinct species: Archaeopteryx seems to have been a fair match for the emu in this regard. More data may allow inferences to be made about the bird's vocalizations, and thus reveal what sort of social structure it lived in.

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Palaeontology: Herd of hearing. Nature 457, 360 (2009).

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