July 3, 2011

Researcher Records World’s Loudest Animal

The creature dubbed the world's loudest animal--a tiny water boatman type of insect that produces the most noise relative to body size--has been caught on tape by scientists for the first time, according to various media reports.

According to Telegraph Science Correspondent Richard Gray, Dr. James Windmill of the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow and his colleagues discovered the Micronecta scholtzi, which are roughly 3/4 of an inch in size and capable of producing 99.2 decibels of noise--"the equivalent of listening to an orchestra play loudly from the front row," according to Gray.

The sound, BBC Nature Reporter Ella Davies points out, is produced when the water boatman rubs its penis against its abdomen--a process identified as "stridulation" which she says is "a courtship display performed to attract a mate."

The researchers recorded the song using underwater microphones, and according to Davies, discovered that it produced an average of 78.9 decibels ("comparable to a passing freight train").

"Remarkably, even though 99% of sound is lost when transferring from water to air, the song is so loud that a person walking along the bank can actually hear these tiny creatures singing from the bottom of the river," Windmill said in a statement, admitting that the team was "very surprised" by the discovery.

"We first thought that the sound was coming from larger aquatic species such as a Sigara species [of] lesser water boatmen," he said. "When we identified without any doubt the sound source, we spent a lot of time making absolutely sure that our recordings of the sounds were calibrated correctly."

According to BBC Nature, while other creatures produce higher decibel levels of noise, they are typically much larger, such as blue whales (188 dB) and elephants (117 dB).

"If you scale the sound level they produce against their body size, Micronecta scholtzi are without doubt the loudest animals on Earth," he added. "Biologically this work could be helpful in conservation as recordings of insect sounds could be used to monitor biodiversity. From the engineering side it could be used to inform our work in acoustics, such as in sonar systems."

The research, which was funded by a Royal Society (London) International Project Grant, has been published in the journal PLoS One. Collaborating with Windmill, a lecturer in the University's Center for Ultrasonic Engineering, was Dr Jerome Sueur of the Mus©um national d'Histoire naturelle in Paris and a team of biologists and engineers, the Glasgow institute confirmed in a press release.


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