Why do some animals have big ears? Desert animals in particular are often characterized by their over sized hearing devices, indicating the size may be a vital survival adaptation.
Unlike other natural habitats, deserts have very sparse vegetation with limited cover. With little to hide behind, small creatures need to hear extremely well to both locate prey, and avoid predators.
The big ears also function as a cooling system. Blood vessels in the ears circulate the body-warmed blood to the thin ears, where some of the heat is dissipated from the body. In the cooler evenings, it works the other way – bringing cooled blood back into the body.
One tiny little rodent, however, appears to have taken big ears to a whole new level.
Jerboas are small, mice-like desert rodents found throughout Asia and northern Africa. They have long tails and long hind legs adapted for jumping like a kangaroo. The long-eared jerboa Euchoreutes naso also has exceptionally large ears, about one third bigger than their head. They live in the arid deserts of Mongolia and China.
Dwarfed by their enormous ears, these endearing little critters also have hairs on their feet which help protect them from the hot sand. Active at night, long-eared jerboas spend most of the daylight hours in underground tunnels. Their diet is made up mainly of insects.
According to Dr. Jonathan Bailie of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), who took the first video footage of the long-eared jerboa in 2007, the rare rodents are already belived to be endangered.
“These amazing, remarkable creatures are on the verge of extinction and we know almost nothing about them,” warned Dr Baillie.
The ZSL has appointed an in-country scientist to study the long-eared jerboa. In addition to habitat disturbance, the emergence of the domestic cat as a newly introduced predator has been identified as a threat to their survival. The species is classified as endangered by the World Conservation Union.
As many scientists have discovered over the years, the “cuteness quota” of an animal can be very helpful in establishing a conservation program. Few people want to help conserve an ‘ugly’ bug for example, while the whole world wants to save tigers and polar bears.
If cuteness counts, this little rodent should definitely be on the top of the list!