The Loh Down On Science

Olivarius Twist

Whale ears on a cricket's legs?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet the weta, a cricketlike insect.

They're cricketlike in that wetas' ears are on their front legs! It's true! This enables wide separation of the ears, like stereo speakers. Handy for pinpointing other weta's delicate chirps, or for avoiding predators!

But even weirder? Normally, ears with such sensitive hearing have taut, thin eardrums. But weta eardrums are thick and wrinkly! That should mean lousy hearing. What gives?

Biologist Kate Lomas, of the University of Auckland, dissected some weta ears. Inside, she discovered a tiny, fluid-secreting organ, never before noticed. The organ fills the ear cavity with fluid, making it taut and resonant, transmitting sound clearly.

What’s more, the fluid isn’t the insect equivalent of blood. Instead, it’s a lipid--a fat! The only other creatures with lipid ears? Whales!

And, as the special ear-organ's discoverer, Lomas got to name it. She chose "olivarius," for her son, Ollie.

Awwwwww … much cuter than Liquid-Fat Ears, which is what we would have called them!

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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