You’ll probably find that the ear designs that amplify sounds the best will be funnel shaped and have large pinnae, or outer ear flaps. The pinnae of human ears (and most animal ears) act like funnels, collecting and directing sound into the inner ear, so our brains can detect and analyze what we hear.
Ears can also tell us about an animal’s lifestyle. Some animals (such as dogs, elephants, and whales, for instance) can hear frequencies too high or low for us to hear. In some owls, one ear is set slightly higher than the other. This allows them to pinpoint the position of prey while in flight, assessing location in an up-and-down plane, in addition to left and right.
Animals that have very large ears (jackrabbits and foxes, for example), can generally hear very well, or at a great distance. Big ears can help animals locate prey, avoid predators, and find others of their kind.
Large ears can also provide extra surface area to radiate heat away from the body. In animals that cannot sweat as we do, having an expanse of blood vessels close to the skin’s surface allows excess body heat to escape. In fact, ear shape is one way you can tell African elephants from Indian elephants: Elephants adapted to live in the hot African climate have bigger ears than Indian elephants have.