Frogs and the Cure for Hearing Loss

Three Javan Tree Frogs sitting on a branch

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Hearing is a highly complex task. Your ears can distinguish between several thousand sound frequencies, enabling the brain to locate where a sound originates. Although we have an intricate understanding of how the ear works, there is still much we don’t know, and unfortunately, there is no cure yet for hearing loss.

However, there is hope, as scientists have long been researching other animal species, particularly frogs, to uncover new ways to treat and even find a cure for hearing loss.

The range of your hearing depends on the pitch of the sound (high or low) and the sound’s loudness. Pitch is measured in Hertz (Hz), and loudness is measured in decibels (dB). The complete human hearing range is 20 to 20,000Hz. Our hearing is most sensitive in the 2,000 to 5,000Hz frequency range, where most conversational sounds happen. 

A frog’s hearing is in a similar frequency range to humans, as seen in the below image displaying animal hearing frequency ranges.

What Makes Frogs So Suitable?

Scientists researching the many puzzles of hearing in humans consider frogs a vital source of information. Individual features of the frog auditory system closely resemble many vertebrate species, including ours.

Frogs are excellent subjects for study because, during embryonic stages of development, this species’ hearing and balance organs are very similar to those of humans.

In addition, genomic sequencing of frogs has revealed they share most of the genes found in humans. Frogs allow scientists to evaluate their hypotheses in live embryos because frog eggs are fertilised and develop outside the mother.

The Frog’s Cocktail Party Problem

When multiple people speak simultaneously, understanding speech becomes challenging for humans in noisy group settings. This sound processing issue is known as the “cocktail party problem”. If you’ve ever experienced trouble hearing your friend at a party, you may understand what scientists describe. 

Most people first experience hearing loss in the presence of background noise. What do cocktail parties have to do with frogs, you ask? Well, it turns out frogs have evolved their hearing senses within the context of the “cocktail party problem”. 

You’ve likely heard in nature, particularly during or after rain, frogs that have formed large and noisy social groups during their breeding seasons. Many different species of frogs can be present in the same habitat containing dozens to tens of thousands of individuals, much like a cocktail party of humankind, except without daiquiris. 

In this scenario, male frogs call loudly to attract females and defend their territory against rival males. Individual male frogs can produce calls reaching peak sound pressure levels of 105 dB measured at a distance of 1 metre.

A tiny amphibian ranging from 1.5cm to 10cm in length makes a sustained noise as loud as a jackhammer or a jet take-off (at 305 meters).

Finding a Mate Amongst All That Racket

As you can imagine, the resulting din makes it a very challenging environment for a female frog to find a mate successfully. Amongst the chorus of suitors, she must:

  • find a calling male
  • distinguish him as a member of her species
  • determine his potential quality as a mate; and
  • pinpoint his exact location. 

To play their role successfully, male frogs can estimate how far away competitive rivals of their species are. And in some cases, males can even recognise the individual calls of any territorial neighbours.

Frogs are therefore considered specialists in solving cocktail-party-like problems in vocal communication. Scientists hope to reveal the evolution and biology of hearing in amphibians and humans by studying how frogs achieve these magnificent feats of acoustic signal processing. And in the process, perhaps finding a cure for hearing loss. Or at least learning more effective ways to treat and manage the condition.

Are you looking for ways to treat or manage your hearing loss? Contact one of our clinics today; they are waiting for your call.

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