Loudest Animal on Earth is a Tiny Insect
Lion's roar? Whale's song? Ounce for ounce, this bug has them beat
It's a wee bug, but it makes a monster noise.
Commonly known in the U.S. as the "water boatman," the 2-millimeter-long insect produces a sound equivalent to sitting in the first row of a loud orchestra. For their size, they are the loudest living animal, say a team of researchers from Scotland and France.
"I met someone who does underwater recordings and they heard these sounds … and wondered what the sounds were and what was making them," said Dr. James Windmill at the Center for Ultrasonic Engineering at Glasgow's University of Strathclyde. "We figured it must be a larger bug."
Windmill and a colleague teamed up with Jerome Sueur, a biologist at the Natural History Museum in Paris, to study the bug. They presented their work this month at a conference in Glasgow.
The male water boatman produces the sound by rubbing body parts together, called stridulation, like a cricket chirping. The males do it to attract a female, of course, and have evolved over millions of years to be a loud "bunch of males trying to outdo each other," said Windmill.
The herbivorous bugs live in shallow water, less than a foot deep, but Windmill doesn't suggest people walk along the river banks expecting to hear a very loud sound. Ninety-nine percent of the sound is reflected back into the water, though the remaining 1 percent can be heard out of the water.
Scientists do not understand how such a loud sound can be made with body parts the width of a human hair. However, the insects have a bubble of air under their bodies they use to breathe underwater, and Windmill suspects they may use it to amplify the sound.
"I love the biology but I take the practical view that there is something we can take from it and learn from it," said Windmill. He is interested in studying how animals hear and produce sounds, to develop better technologies such as sonar and biomedical ultrasound.
"As an engineer, I get to learn something. The loudest thing on Earth is a creature people wouldn't expect, like a lion roaring or a whale singing. The loudest thing on this planet is this tiny insect."
Source = Chicago Tribune
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