Nature on our doorsteps: Do frogs have ears?

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

Frogs do not have external ear structures like most mammals do. 

They can certainly hear though, and they have eardrums and an inner ear.

The feathery structures on very young tadpoles are not ears. They are temporary external gills 1

The feathery structures on very young tadpoles are not ears. They are temporary external gills.­

The location of their ears is noticeable on the surface of their skin as a circular sunken area, located just behind their eyes. 

This is the frog’s eardrum, which is called a tympanum. Unlike our own external ear structures, the design of the frog’s ears prevents water and mud entering into its ears and blocking its hearing.

The frog’s tympanum works just like the eardrum in other species, except that with frogs, their hearing is actually connected to the working of their lungs.

A frog’s lungs can vibrate, and this helps to balance the pressure between the inside and the outside of the amphibian’s eardrum, helping it to hear well both on land and in water. 

This adaptation is especially useful for the frog in springtime when it needs to croak really loudly to attract a female.

The frogs eardrum is located in the sunken area just behind its eyes 1

The frog's eardrum is located in the sunken area just behind its eyes

Being able to balance the inside and outside pressure at its eardrums helps to protect the frog’s inner ear from these loud noises.

Young tadpoles do not have eardrums, however. They rely instead on their developing lungs to sense vibration and sound. 

Their eardrums and inner ear only form at the stage when the tadpole’s back legs appear.

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