When we hear from breeders about what they are looking for in a Bengal kitten or see their comments in public forums, it seems that most people feel ear size is a top priority. Everyone is trying to reduce the ear size - or people are complimenting ear size, or they're hoping a kitten will grow into their ears. We're sorry to burst the ear size bubble; ear size really should be the least of your worries when dealing with the three major aspects of the ears, shape, set, and size.
It is nearly impossible to talk about ear size without talking about the head's shape, and the ear set because the reality is that perception of size is largely affected by the set. In the collage on the left, there is an Abyssinian and a Leopard cat. The left side of the collage is the original Abyssinian and the reduced back skull Leopard cat. On the right side has a picture with added back skull to the Abbysinian, and it has the original picture of the Leopard cat. On the Abyssinian, we added more back skull to him, extending his skull's length behind his ears. This makes the ears appear slightly smaller - even though they haven't changed in size. On the Leopard cat, we removed the back skull, which makes the ears appear slightly larger. The ears themselves haven't changed in any of the pictures.
This elementary drawing shows the same concept. Only one line has changed in the two pictures - the line between the ears has been moved up. This line would indicate the difference between ears set on a head with no skull behind them versus ears set on a head in which the head does extend behind them.
The first thing one should understand about ear size is how much it is affected by the back skull's presence or absence.
The TICA Bengal standard says the ears should be "set as much on side as top of the head, following the contour of the face in the frontal view." What exactly does that mean?
Look at the collage of the Leopard cat with the ginger cat. Notice the Leopard cat's ears are set along the skull's side and the top of the skull. They are positioned so that the ears angle slightly out. Now, look at the ginger cat's ears. The ears set more on top of the head than on the side. Also, the ginger cat's ears point up, not slightly outward. Keeping the inner edges of the ears wide apart also improves the set. Using the width between the eyes as a guideline, one will notice the ginger cat has about twice as much width between its ears; whereas, the Leopard cat has about three times the width of its nose bridge between its ears.
So what does a good and bad ear set look like on a Bengal? The width between the ears is very much a work in progress on the SBT Bengal. Once again, the head shape has a big effect on the ears. The Bengal has lost a lot of height or curvature to the top of the skull, which reduces the space between the ears. We can move the ears apart, but bringing that curvature back will take many years of work.
Determining a good ear set is extremely difficult as there are so many factors at play. As has been mentioned previously, the skull shape is a huge factor. In addition, ear tilt and angle are also important factors that influence appearance. Look at the two cats at the top of the collage on the left. The cat on the right looks like it has a better ear set, but looks can be deceiving. The ears are actually set in the same location on both cats at the top of the collage - the difference in appearance is caused by skull shape, forward tilt, and outward angle. The cat on the top right is wider at the top of the skull than the cat on the top left, making the ears further apart, and the ears are angled slightly outward with the desired forward tilt and cupping that was discussed in the previous blog. While the width between the ears, the forward tilt, and the outward angle are all desirable, the ear set itself is not as the ear set on both cats is on top of the head.
Now, look at the bottom pair of cats. While the cat on the bottom right has larger ears, their set is as much on the skull's side as on the top. The easiest indication of his ear set is where the outer and inner ear attachments are placed. The outer ear attachment on the cat in the bottom right picture is lower than the inner ear attachment compared to the other two cats in the collage. We've drawn lines from the ears' inner edge to the ears' outer edge to demonstrate the steepness of the angle. The steeper the angle, the more evenly set the ear is on both the top and the side of the head. One must be careful not to let the angle move too far towards vertical as then the ears would be set too far on the side of the head like an Oriental Shorthair.
But how do we get the set of the Leopard cat on the Bengal? For one, you need to keep the width between the ears. Unfortunately, this isn't easy to monitor on kittens as their heads are still developing. When wanting width between the ears, the best strategy is to look at the parents.
While looking at the ears themselves is not very helpful on kittens, you can look at the skull shape since it affects the ears' appearance. Selecting kittens with significant back skull and top skull (the roundness between the ears) will help the ears' final appearance.
These Blogs are written by Robyn Paterson, with much of the content coming from the mind of Jon Paterson. We intend to help other Bengal breeders notice and select features distinct to small forest-dwelling wildcats to better breed together. They are best viewed on a desktop. To access all the Blog articles, please click here.