Mental Floss
BIG QUESTIONS

What’s the Smallest Bone in the Body?

Ellen Gutoskey
Yep, it's in your ear.
Yep, it's in your ear. / AndreiDavid/iStock via Getty Images
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Unless you’ve expressly studied the parts of the human ear, you’re probably most familiar with the most basic ear terms—the lobe, the eardrum, maybe the cochlea, etc. Maybe you even know that the inner ear is important for balance, and why frequent Q-Tip use is bad for your ear canal.

What you may not know is that your ear is also home to the three smallest bones in your body: the ossicles, from a Latin word meaning small bone. Their individual names come from Latin, too. There’s the malleus (hammer), the incus (anvil), and the stapes (stirrup), which are all connected in a chain and vaguely shaped like their namesakes. Together, according to Verywell Health, the ossicles are about the size of an orange seed; and the stapes is the smallest of the three.

human ear anatomy diagram
The stapes is clearly the smallest. / Martin Broz/iStock via Getty Images

The ossicles are located in your middle ear, between your eardrum and your inner ear, and their job is to transmit sound vibrations from one place to the other. After the vibrations pass through the middle ear, they hit the cochlea, which transforms them into neural signals for your brain to receive as sound.

On the opposite side of the size spectrum is the thigh bone, or femur—the Latin word for thigh. Your femur is the longest and strongest bone in your body. Though its exact measurements vary by person, the average length of an adult male femur is roughly 19 inches; and adult female femurs are typically somewhere between 17 and 18 inches. According to Britannica, some femurs can withstand between 1800 and 2500 pounds of compression force before getting damaged. 

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