Saturday, 28 April 2012

I Have Primitive Ears

Darwin's Tubercle on Homo sapiens and Macaca fascicularis
I'm not one to boast, but I have primitive ears. I have the sort of ears of which my remote ancestors might have been proud, if they had had the cognitive ability to be proud.

I have Darwin's Tubercles and I can wiggle my ears without wrinkling my forehead. Both these things are vestigial fossils of my remote ancestry.

Darwin's Tubercle was described by Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man, although he called it the Woolnerian tip after the sculpture Thomas Woolner who actually first recorded it.

It has no known function in humans, but in our simian and anthropoid cousins it, or rather the point, is probably useful in focussing sound. It is a vestige of the ear point found in many simians and, presumably, in our common ancestors. Mine is larger on the right ear than on the left, where it's a tiny little nodule I can just about feel but the important thing is that I have them. Only about ten percent of us do.

And, I can wiggle my ears!

To quote from Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne:

... if you can wiggle your ears, you're demonstrating evolution. We have three muscles under our scalp that attach to our ears. In most people they're useless but some people can use them to wiggle their ears. ... These are the same muscles used by other animals, like cats and horses, to move their ears around, helping them localize sounds. In those species, moving the ears helps them detect predators, locate their young, etc. But in humans the muscles are good only for entertainment.

But, to be fair on the rest of you, it's not just me. We're all walking evidence for Darwinian Evolution. These quaint little vestigial structures merely confirm what the rest of our anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and genetics are all shouting at us so loudly that those who are afraid to hear it have to howl even more loudly to drown it out.

Footnote: you may be able to wiggle your ears if you practice enough. Here's how: How To Wiggle Your Ears.

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  1. A brother-in-law sent a message to me, asking why there are still monkeys if we are related. I shake my head. My wife has walked him through this already. Sometimes there's little hope. I am proud to be an ear wiggler!

  2. My left ear point is really, really prominent!
    Well I do feel special knowing only 10% of us have it!
    My boyfriend and I both just wiggled our ears without forehead wrinkling. Much fun.

  3. Ha I have a really prominent bump on my right ear - delighted to discover it's called Darwin's tubercle and is a link to our evolutionary past.

    I can also wiggle my ears and also sometimes feel the muscles on the side of my head which make my ears wiggle involuntarily tense when I hear a noise behind me.

    For a long time it's been obvious to me that it's a vestigial reflex that links me to some lost ability that my ancestors used to have.

    1. Yep. I have an obvious tubercule on one ear, and I've just found the teeniest bump inside the other. I can wiggle both ears, together, or individually. Those muscles tense/move in response to loud or unexpected sounds, and sometimes to being startled. I've never heard another person mention this!

  4. And what does that make you if you have only ONE tubercule? Never realized it till genetics class. As for wiggling ears . . . one guy in my high school class could do it. He was a never-ending source of entertainment, since usually he did it at key moments in a lecture, and everyone but the teacher seemed to know he was at it. A sign of evolution, or devolution?


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