Acoustical coupling of lizard eardrums

J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2008 Dec;9(4):407-16. doi: 10.1007/s10162-008-0130-2. Epub 2008 Jul 22.


Lizard ears are clear examples of two-input pressure-difference receivers, with up to 40-dB differences in eardrum vibration amplitude in response to ipsi- and contralateral stimulus directions. The directionality is created by acoustical coupling of the eardrums and interaction of the direct and indirect sound components on the eardrum. The ensuing pressure-difference characteristics generate the highest directionality of any similar-sized terrestrial vertebrate ear. The aim of the present study was to measure the gain of the direct and indirect sound components in three lizard species: Anolis sagrei and Basiliscus vittatus (iguanids) and Hemidactylus frenatus (gekkonid) by laser vibrometry, using either free-field sound or a headphone and coupler for stimulation. The directivity of the ear of these lizards is pronounced in the frequency range from 2 to 5 kHz. The directivity is ovoidal, asymmetrical across the midline, but largely symmetrical across the interaural axis (i.e., front-back). Occlusion of the contralateral ear abolishes the directionality. We stimulated the two eardrums with a coupler close to the eardrum to measure the gain of the sound pathways. Within the frequency range of maximal directionality, the interaural transmission gain (compared to sound arriving directly) is close to or even exceeds unity, indicating a pronounced acoustical transparency of the lizard head and resonances in the interaural cavities. Our results show that the directionality of the lizard ear is caused by the acoustic interaction of the two eardrums. The results can be largely explained by a simple acoustical model based on an electrical analog circuit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Acoustics*
  • Animals
  • Head / physiology
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Lizards / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nose / physiology
  • Tympanic Membrane / physiology*
  • Vibration