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In this question, we're looking at a humanity that has adapted one of the most conspicuous ways of keeping cool--larger ears. Desert animals usually have larger ears to have more room for blood capillaries. And if you have more capillaries on a thin surface, then you get rid of more of the excess heat that you don't want to have, particularly on a hot desert day. The ears of the Fennec fox in particular, the largest of all the canids, are 10-15 centimeters in length (which is big for someone between nine and 16 inches long.) In comparison, the average human ear is about 2.5 inches (6.3 centimeters) long, and the average ear lobe is 0.74 inches (1.88 cm) long and 0.77 inches (1.96 cm) wide.

So let's assume that in this alternate Earth, humans have pointed, foxlike ears as big as the Fennec's, with as many of the blood vessels used to shed off excess heat. The only prediction I see on how it'd affect human anatomy in the whole is a reduction in the size and/or number of sweat glands, as such features would be primarily redundant. But are these the only differences as a result of having the larger, more foxlike ears? Or would they result in other anatomical differences?

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  • $\begingroup$ Are there any differences is very broad and opinion based. Can you narrow down specifically which difference you are looking for? $\endgroup$ – Trevor Jul 30 at 23:40
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of What would be the possible benefits of pointed ears? --- And if not a duplicate, at least lots of good answers to look into that might help here! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jul 31 at 1:18
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think this provides much cooling at all (and would be a severe liability in cold weather when you specifically want to avoid cooling but can't cut blood flow to these ears because they'll suffer frostbite). Seems very problematic and provides little advantage. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Jul 31 at 2:35
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    $\begingroup$ If the humans you're talking about already have the ability to sweat, your humans probably won't have pointy ears. If they still do, it's because of an adaptation to hunt at night or to go hunt things you can hear before you can see. $\endgroup$ – cyber101 Jul 31 at 9:22
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    $\begingroup$ You could tie them in a knot. You could tie them in a bow, $\endgroup$ – Willk Jul 31 at 11:29
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Creatures that don’t sweat have these kind of cooling adaptations.

If humans had similar ears, there wouldn’t be a corresponding genetic need for fewer sweat glands.

I think humans would have evolved to be more nocturnal since those large controllable ears would give use a powerful hunting and predator detection method. So we might hunt at night when deer and such are easier to kill since we would be on a more level footing with keen night sighted predators.

Or maybe females were diurnal tending to gathering and agriculture while males tended to operate at night, hunting food and predators to keep rhe tribe safe.

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    $\begingroup$ Thermodynamics says no. If the ears aren't actively radiating heat, they aren't going to cool the body. In a desert environment, the air will probably be above body temperature, so the ears can only shed heat through evaporation, and that means sweat. Sweating is a uniquely human adaptation to overheating, and it actually means we're the best in the animal kingdom at regulating body temperature, even without giant ears. $\endgroup$ – stix Jul 30 at 23:51
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The ears of all mammals enter the skull at its base, just behind the jaw. This is true of both humans, and fennec foxes. Fox ears on top of a human head are thus anatomically plausible without seriously changing the anatomy of the skull.

However, there are obviously other anatomical differences. Because a fox's ears are on top of its head, it has a very long ear canal that ends in an "L" shape before going into the temporal bone. This is why it's safe to use a Q-tip to clean deeply in your dog's ears but not your own. The human ear canal is a straight line, and you could poke your ear drum. Not so in canids.

But if you want the ears to behave in a similar manner to a fox (i.e. to move around and point at things), you're going to need a lot of skeletal musculature to move them. This means the addition of muscles on top of and behind the human skull in the occipital bun region (basically the back of the head). These muscles would almost certainly make your fox-humans' heads look larger than us regular ape types. The fox-humans' ear canals would also go along the side of their heads until opening into the ear lobes on top. This might add some extra "bulk" to the side of their head/face area as well.

Another question is where you will get the blood supply that you intend to cool through these ears. Human heads keep all their major blood vessels on the inside for good reason. In order for these ears to act as radiators, they will need a lot of blood supplied to them, which would make them a prime target for attack, and any damage would likely result in massive blood loss. But the real question is how to get them that blood in the first place. In normal humans, the scalp is provided blood by three arteries: The superficial temporal artery, the posterior aricular artery, and the occipital artery. The largest of these is the superficial temporal artery, and luckily enough it goes right behind the jaw just in front of the ear canal, a perfect position for your fox-human ears. You'll need to make this artery much larger, which will probably put some pressure on the neck area and just behind the jaw, plus you'll need a new branch off of it to feed into the fox-ears (as the normal temporal artery is already busy branching off into smaller tributaries to feed the scalp).

In order to be effective radiators, the ears would have to sweat... A lot... Which would likely make them wet all the time and quite possibly cold to the touch. If the ears were ever dry, they'd have the opposite of your intended effect, as they would absorb heat from the surroundings and channel it into the blood. You'll probably want your fox-humans' anatomies to restrict blood flow to and from the ears based on body temperature. This would happen at the autonomic level.

In terms of what these ears change as far as abilities go, well the answer is going to be not a whole lot. They'll definitely make your fox-humans better able to hear, but only by maybe 10 dB overall. They'll be unlikely to hear all that much better than a regular human. But the fact that the ears act as collectors will markedly change the directionality of their hearing, and their hearing would likely be worse compared to a normal human behind them and away from the direction their ears are pointed. Normal humans hear roughly the same in all directions, as our ear lobes don't really do anything at all to change the directionality of our hearing. Your fox-humans will however be able to tell what direction a sound is coming from much better than a normal human, as they can tell by trial and error by pointing their ears in different directions.

Your fox-humans also won't hear any more of the acoustic spectrum than a regular human, since all of that is determined by the size and shape of the cochlea, as well as the number of hairs present and the carrying capability of the acoustic nerve, all of which would probably remain unchanged.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is it ever safe to use a Q tip? Doesn't it just push the wax further in which is the biggest danger? I believe you should only use it to clean the outer lobe of the ear. I don't think it has anything to do with accidentally hitting your ear drum. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Jul 31 at 0:13

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