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Posted at 11:10 AM ET, 06/30/2011

Tiny water bug’s ‘song’ breaks records


A water boatman (Flickr/Myrioram )
A miniature water bug that “sings” has set the record as the loudest animal on Earth, relative to its body size.

A study by French and Scottish scientists showed that a species of water boatmen, an insect found in rivers and ponds in Europe and less than 1/12 an inch in size, has the ability to make an in­cred­ibly loud sound, Discover Magazine reports.

The Micronecta scholtzi can “sing” at up to 99.2 decibels, which the BBC compares with listening to a loud orchestra play while sitting in the front row. The bug’s average song reaches 78.9 decibels, similar to the noise level of a passing freight train.

The discovery is compelling in part because the loudest animals on Earth are usually the largest, such as blue whales, whose song can reach 188 decibels, according to the Global Post.

But what’s even more fascinating is the way this bug “sings.”

To make its sound, the Micronecta scholtzi rubs a ridge of its lower region against its ridged abdomen, which scientists believes is a display used to court a mate. The act of rubbing two body parts together to create a sound is called “stridulation.”

If you’re wondering why you haven’t been deafened by this bug’s sound before, it’s because the insect lives underwater, and most of the sound is lost when transferring from water to air.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t hear it at all.

“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,” says engineering expert James Windmill from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, who was part of the team of biologists and engineering experts that recorded the insects using special underwater microphones.

Windmill says they were “very surprised” by the finding. “We first thought that the sound was coming from larger aquatic species such as a Sigara species [of] lesser water boatmen. ... 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.”

By  |  11:10 AM ET, 06/30/2011

 
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