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Moose Antlers as Hearing Aids?

Moose, of the Bullwinkle variety, are known to have excellent hearing. They can pick up a mating call from up to two miles away. That’s pretty good, don’t you think? I can’t hear my wife when we’re in the same room! Two miles for some moose love is pretty impressive.

The Study of Moose Antler Technology

George and Peter Bubenik published a study that suggested the Bull Moose’s gigantic antlers boosted hearing ability by up to 20%. Hey, when love is in the air, real moose want to know.

Bull Moose Hearing Antlers
Bull Moose antlers act like hearing aid

In addition to those big, honkin’ antlers, moose have big ears – real big! More than 60 times bigger then puny, little human ears. So, combine big ears, big antlers and the “look of love” in their eyes, and you see that these giant relatives of deer have it going on. It’s good to be a moose.

The Bubenik study employed trophy antlers positioned around an artificial ear that contained a microphone and sound level meter. As the antlers were positioned and re-positioned, the father-son team, writing in the European Journal of Wildlife, concluded:

“These findings strongly indicate that the palm of moose antlers may serve as an effective parabolic reflector.” In plain speak, sound bounces off the antlers into those big ears, enabling Bull Moose to hear at distances of two miles from the sound source.

Study co-author, George Bubenik, stated that “So far, there is no evidence any other deer species has this capacity.”

So What? Moose Technology is Decades behind Human Hearing Technology.

Aurolesephone hearing aids
Aurolesephones, Courtesty of Becker Medical Library, Washington University School of Medicine

That’s true, but they’re moose for goodness sake. Give them time. They’ll catch up.

As humans we also employ this “natural” amplification boost – just on a smaller scale. Our outer ears are shaped the way they are in order to capture sound and shoot it down the ear canal. Give it a try once – cup your hand behind your outer ear to increase the size of your natural ear cup – you will notice a slight boost in volume.

In fact, many of the earliest hearing aids employed moose technology – big devices to capture sound waves that were then funneled (literally) to the ear canal. We’ve all seen the old cartoons with the ancient grandpa holding a gigantic horn to his ear. That was the extent of hearing technology up until the 1900s. Very moose-like.

The above picture is an example of one early hearing aid – a head band with trumpet-like objects on both sides to help boost the sound down into the ear canal. This particular model is known as Aurolesephones.

Is that a hearing aid?

flower vase hearing aid
Flower vase hearing aid, Courtesy of Becker Medical Library, Washington University School of Medicine

Even back in great-gram’s day, hearing loss and hearing aids were stigmatized, and ways to “discreetly” improve hearing, like this apparatus to the left were used by those who could afford them. (The less-well-off guy simply rolled up a newspaper, stuck it in his ear and collected as many sound waves as possible.)

To the left is an example of how the hard of hearing discreetly picked up on the conversation using a large vase-like gizmo and a garden hose to direct the sound into the ear. Look how it’s decorated to fit in with the décor of a Victorian living room. So instead of something near the ear to capture the sound and funnel it into the ear canal, the idea was something more discreet. But you got to wonder about that garden hose thingy. How discreet is that?

In any case, once again this is 100% moose-based technology. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way in the design of hearing aids and, thankfully, the stigma attached to hearing loss is fast disappearing thanks to the Baby Boomers and the Ear Bud Generation. It won’t be long before we’re all wearing hearing aids. They just won’t look like this contraption.

Hearing Aid Technology Marches On

Once electricity came into widespread use, hearing aid technology improved significantly, employing smaller units that emphasized their discretion. Even then, hearing loss was viewed as a sign of age, of “being broken” and of being a limited.

Thankfully today we are far ahead of the moose, it isn’t funny. Today’s hearing aids are compact, comfortable, automatic and you don’t have to have big ears (but it’s okay if you do).

Thanks to digital electronics, today’s hearing aids – even entry-level units – are deep in automated convenience, adjusting automatically to sound conditions – from crowded noisy “juke joints” to the quiet of a grandchild’s nursery. No fumbling, no fiddling. Set it and forget it.

Modern technology has also improved sound quality. Old-timey hearing aids – some the size of a shoebox – weren’t much more than semi-portable amplifiers, amplifying all sound equally. That’ll give you headache in about five minutes.

Today, directional microphones adjust automatically, reducing background noise from behind you while amping up the person to whom you’re talking.. Bet no moose could do that!

Wearing comfort has also come a long way. Today, consumers have choices. Lots of them. From completely in the canal (CIC) units that are invisible to the rest of the world, to wild and wonderful behind-the ear (BTE) devices that come in a variety of hot colors and patterns for those who don’t feel stigmatized by hearing loss. And even the latest open fit BTE devices are so small they are nearly impossible to see behind the ear.

Stigma? What Stigma?

Check it out, break it down.

Yeah, that’s what today’s hearing aid consumer wants. A little flash. A little aural attitude. And these devices are packed with automated features to simplify your day. (Check out Healthy Hearing's Quick Guide to hearing aids for a peak at some of the latest models)

They produce a natural, unprocessed sound, enabling you to use what hearing you have and boosting the decibels only as needed. The fact is, today’s modern hearing aids are designed for the cell-phone-Blackberry-GPS-surround-sound world in which we live. 

Bottom line is this: We are light years ahead of moose technology in hearing aids. However, the moose still lead us in attitudes toward hearing aids. Moose like their antlers and their gigantic ears. They are a sign of seniority and power.

Humans are just starting to let go of old attitudes concerning hearing loss, so at this point, we’d have to call it a draw - Humans: 1. Moose: 1.

But we can still win this thing, people. Wear your hearing aids like a bull moose shows off those antlers. In time, we’ll beat those acute-hearing quadrupeds grazing on grasses in the woods.

It’s just a matter of time.

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