Imagine an elephant with an extra large sized pair of ears. These magnificent creature, no bigger than a mouse, can flap their ears like a hummingbird and fly in the sky. They have hollow bones, lots of muscles in each ear, and each ear is roughly twice their body length.

Assuming they can fly in any direction, hovering in place and even perform the moonwalk midair, these pair of ears would need to flap continuously in quick succession and, thus, generate heat and sound. The complex network of blood vessels spreading underneath the entire surface of the ear helps to cool the animal but what about the noise? I'm sure it will confuse the animal.

How can such a creature filter out noise coming from the rapid flapping of its ears while staying airborne?

Technology is prohibited and please refrain from using magic. Actually, the ancestors used the ears to keep cool and, later on, these ears become larger and more muscular. It is probably accidental that they are able to fly into the sky.

  • $\begingroup$ Is it an elephant or a mouse? $\endgroup$ – a CVn Sep 11 '15 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael Kjorling it is an elephant the size of a mouse. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Sep 11 '15 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ If it's the size of a mouse, I imagine it will work much the same way an actual hummingbird does. They don't seem to get confused while flying, despite generating quite a bit of noise (hence their name). $\endgroup$ – Geobits Sep 11 '15 at 13:31

Have you ever studied how a woodpecker's brain and skull is saved from immediate disaster caused by its very high frequency pecking on the wood?

Or studied how/why all ears have a "frequency range" of sounds they can hear and not hear anything above/below that range?

You cannot explain these things simple as abc in a sci fi novel. Can you explain in a sci fi novel why mice and rats can hear sounds of far far lower frequency than we humans can, and why can't we hear the very high frequency sounds that bats produce?

I suggest you declare right away that all the low frequency sounds (of course centered around the frequency of sound produced by ear flapping) are filtered out. If your readers can digest the notion of elephants flying by flapping their big huge giant ears, they won't question you how these beasts filter out their noise.

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  • $\begingroup$ For more on that, read Sensory Exotica by Howard C. Hughes. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jul 11 '16 at 13:58

The creature would "hear" the noise, but not be confused by it: Human eyes have a blind spot where the blood vessels attach, and jitter constantly to work around this. The brain patches all this data into a single, coherent image. This doesn't confuse us because it's how we evolved. Similarly, a creature which evolved to fly with its ears would have evolved not to be confused by the sound.

The brain handles the noise cancellation: You could simply state that the creature's brain is capable of ignoring the sound of its own flapping (like how human brains cancel out the sound of the blood rushing in our veins, or the image of our nose in our peripheral vision).

If you want a slightly more detailed explanation, you could state that it has evolved a secondary pair of simple auditory sense organs which are deeper in its skull, and are only capable of hearing the sounds generated by its own body (especially during flight). Its brain would then subtract that signal from what's being provided by its much more sensitive primary auditory sense organs. Its sense of hearing would still be diminished during flight, but it wouldn't be completely deafened.

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They don't filter, so they don't hear while flying.

To not hear is obviously a weakness, as they couldn't hear neither close predators noises, nor shout from other species member that would want to yield a danger.

However, to fly is a much better advantage. For small animals of this size, there are many carnivorous animals stuck on ground that would stop to be a threat as long as they are airborne.
And even if the noise would probably alert and attract many other predators around, your creature would simply have to fly on an upper position, like a tree, to be safe for a while.

In order to communicate together while flying, maybe they could develop a new form of language rather than noises. They can for instance develop a 3D movement code, like bees waggle dance.

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  • $\begingroup$ Maybe the dumbo takes very short breaks from flapping to listen, every few seconds or so, in order to maintain some sense of aural situational awareness. So it would bob a bit while in flight while it falls/glides for a fraction of a second every couple of seconds. $\endgroup$ – Jason K Jul 11 '16 at 14:46

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