Scaling of the mammalian middle ear

Hear Res. 1995 May;85(1-2):18-30. doi: 10.1016/0378-5955(95)00030-8.


This study considers the general question how animal size limits the size and information receiving capacity of sense organs. To clarify this in the case of the mammalian middle ear, I studied 63 mammalian species, ranging from a small bat to the Indian elephant. I determined the skull mass and the masses of the ossicles malleus, incus and stapes (M, I and S), and measured the tympanic membrane area, A1. The ossicular mass (in mg) is generally negatively allometric to skull mass (in g), the regression equation for the whole material (excluding true seals) being y = 1.373 x(0.513). However, for very small mammals the allometry approaches isometry. Within a group of large mammals no distinct allometry can be discerned. The true seals (Phocidae) are exceptional by having massive ossicles. The size relations within the middle ear are generally rather constant. However, the I/M relation is slightly positively allometric, y = 0.554 x(1.162). Two particularly isometric relations were found; the S/(M + I) relation for the ossicles characterized by the regression equation y = 0.054 x(0.993), and the relation between a two-dimensional measure of the ossicles and the tympanic membrane ares, (M + I)2/3 /A1. As in isometric ears the sound energy collected by the tympanic membrane is linearly related to its area, the latter isometry suggests that, regardless of animal size, a given ossicular cross-sectional area is exposed to a similar sound-induced stress. Possible morphological middle ear adaptations to particular acoustic environments are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ear Ossicles / anatomy & histology
  • Ear Ossicles / physiology
  • Ear, Middle / anatomy & histology*
  • Ear, Middle / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mammals / anatomy & histology*
  • Mammals / physiology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Skull / anatomy & histology
  • Skull / physiology
  • Species Specificity
  • Tympanic Membrane / anatomy & histology
  • Tympanic Membrane / physiology