Otoliths R Us?
February 3, 2009 3:19 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone help me find a source for otoliths, or the tiny stones found in the inner ear? Preferably mammalian, ideally primate or even human (I imagine that last one may be ethically way to far, no offense intended).

Searches turned up this AskMe post. Many of the fish ones I find on the web are in museums. I'm just wondering if I have to start opening up my own skulls to get at them.
posted by buzzv to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might try asking MeFi member otolith; he/she seems to have some experience with them.
posted by lekvar at 3:29 PM on February 3, 2009

I had some sort of clear stone (or grain of salt, or sand, or something) in my ear. It was driving me crazy, making this terrible crinkly noise every time I moved my jaw. It came out on an airplane. I tried to save it, but it was too small and I lost it.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 3:53 PM on February 3, 2009

What do you need them for????

Maybe if you can get in touch with some group doing primate research (like med/pharm research)- since they are more than likely not using this part of the body, you could ask if they would save skulls for you. Of course, you'd have to chip the otoliths out yourself, but . . . In my limited experience with animal research, we often 'saved' organs or whole animals if another lab wanted to use something we weren't using.

I definitely don't think it would fly with cadavers :-) but primates maybe. mammals definitely if you wanted to get them from post-research rats, but they'd be small . . .
posted by lblair at 4:31 PM on February 3, 2009

I'm not sure that they are even found in mammals, I think it's an Osteicthyes (bony fish) exclusive.

But if you live near New England, a short trip to a fish broker/cutting house would get you many haddock heads, and in my experience haddock have the most easily found otoliths. Short of that, salmon heads can be found in many Asian markets.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:40 PM on February 3, 2009

I doubt otoliths are sold though I guess anything is possible. You would most likely need to dissect these things out of lab animal remains, which aren't just available for purchase either legally unless you are a researcher or some such and have a good reason to do so. Note that these things are probably fairly difficult to dissect and would require a good bit of expertise I suspect. You do know that in humans (and I suspect primates and close relatives) otoliths are on the micron scale in size right? Much smaller than fish for example. I have to wonder why in the world you're asking this.
posted by drpynchon at 6:43 PM on February 3, 2009

Best answer: Holy crap, I've been paged in askMe! Okay, calm down otolith, focus, just answer the question as best as you can.

Otolith stones in humans (and presumably in primates, probably in all mammals) are really small. Like 3 microns small, see this page, scroll down near the bottom. Instead of having several large "otolith stones," (as in fish) we have a number of very tiny stones that are attached to a larger structure (although maybe that larger structure is what you want). That's the main reason that fish otoliths are well studied and used in so many research contexts, because they are large enough to easily identify and they fossilize well.

So, for a source of fish otoliths, you certainly could get your own (warning, fish carnage), or go beachcombing. A lot of beaches have plenty of otoliths to be found, once you get the hang of looking for them. Got a local fish market? You could see if they'd give you a bucket of heads for you to dissect. That would probably make a good story. Probably a fisheries lab at any major university would have plenty of otoliths around from various research, but I doubt they'd be selling them. They're cool, but seem to not yet be a saleable commodity. Hmmm.... could there be money in otoliths? If so, I have a little business proposition for you.
posted by otolith at 7:06 PM on February 3, 2009

I'd call these guys. They seem to have the hookup on all sorts of oddities.
posted by piedmont at 7:27 PM on February 3, 2009

Just found some otolith jewelry. Maybe they'd be willing to wholesale you some otoliths.
posted by otolith at 7:40 PM on February 3, 2009

Response by poster: THANKS for all the great help everyone! Never expected so much response, let alone an eponymous respondent!

otolith: If I knew your pager number, I'd have buzzed you directly. Thanks for the jeweler tip. I did reach a university researcher (of vestibular arcana) who told me the same thing about size -- even if I harvested a lot of them, basically what I'd have is a little white powder. Which would be cool, but not exactly what I'm looking for. If I do get a lot, let's talk about that busine$$ proposition...

drpynchon, lblair: What do you need them for????

Top secret. But this may help pierce the veil.
posted by buzzv at 9:40 AM on February 4, 2009

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