Bug’s Penis Makes Loudest Animal Sound

This minuscule water boatman might be smaller than a drawing pin, but it’s also the loudest animal on the planet. Well, relative to its body size, at least.

Mark Brown

The male lesser water boatman, aka Micronecta scholtzi, can create mating calls as loud as 99.2 decibels, which is the equivalent of sitting in the front row of a loud, full-blown orchestra, or standing 15 meters away from a hurtling freight train.

“Remarkably,” said Stratchclyde University’s James Windmill in a press release, “even though 99 percent 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.”

To make this colossal acoustic din, the male water boatman rubs his penis (or “genitalia appendage”) against the ridged surface of his abdomen, like a wooden spoon against a washboard. Size doesn’t matter for this tiny marine animal, though, as the whole area measures about 50 micrometers across — roughly the width of a human hair.

The act of rubbing two body parts together to make a noise is called stridulation, and is seen in insects from grasshoppers to spiders. The only known mammal to stridulate is the streaked tenrec, a spiky hedgehog-like critter from Madagascar that rubs its quills together.

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