The Loh Down On Science

Squid Ears

Scientists adapt a technique for testing hearing in babies to eavesdrop on the secret lives of squid.

Neonatal testing for. . . seafood?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down in Science

saying what's good for baby might be good for squid.

Meet zoologist Aran Mooney at the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He specializes in marine animal hearing.

Squid hearing has long been a mystery to marine biologists. In studying a common, foot-long squid called loligo pealeii, Mooney adapted a technique used to test hearing in human babies It's called auditory evoked potentials, or EAP.

In EAP, a technician attaches electrodes near the subject's ears and plays sound nearby. The electrodes detect neurological response, indicating how well the subject hears.

For his salty, tentacled stand-ins, Mooney used an underwater box with thick walls blocking unwanted sounds. He attached electrodes near the squid's internal statocyst organ--a sack that detects motion and sound--then played dolphin clicks and other noises.

While the squid didn't react to any predator in particular, they did perk up in response to low-frequency noises.

Mooney plans to expand his research, and may try training squid to recognize sounds of danger.

Like fishermen uttering those four deadly syllables: "Calamari!"


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