Ontogeny of the middle ear and auditory sensitivity in the Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita)

Tanya Bojesen Lauridsen, Jakob Christensen-Dalsgaard

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In most anuran amphibians, acoustic communication is of prime importance for mate localization and selection. The tympanic middle ear increases auditory sensitivity and directionality and is therefore expected to be favoured by natural selection. However, especially within the family of true toads (Bufonidae) there is a tendency for species to lose parts of the middle ear apparatus and consequently have a reduced sensitivity to high-frequency sounds (above 1 kHz). Part of the explanation for this may be that development of the middle ear is especially slow in bufonids, and thus the middle ear would be more likely to be lost or non-functional in paedomorphic species. However, a timeline of development of the middle ear has not been established previously. The goal of the present study was to investigate middle ear development in a toad species that has a well-known natural history and acoustic communication behaviour. We made a detailed study of anatomy and biophysics of the middle ear with measurements of auditory sensitivity across age in post-metamorphic natterjack toads (Epidalea calamita). The tadpoles and toadlets were raised in the laboratory, so their exact age was known, their auditory sensitivity was measured using auditory brainstem responses, and middle ear development and function were assessed by anatomical studies and laser vibrometry. We found that the developmental stage of the middle ear depends on the size of the toad rather than its age. The middle ear was functional at the earliest at a snout-vent length of 40 mm, which for these toads was around 500 days post-metamorphosis, close to the time of first reproduction. The functional, adult-like middle ear was shown to have 30 dB increased sensitivity to the dominant frequency of the mating call compared with sensitivities measured in newly metamorphosed individuals.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Experimental Biology
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.


  • Anuran
  • Development
  • Hearing
  • Middle ear


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