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7:51 am
Tue January 15, 2013

Into It: Lesser Water Boatman

The lesser water boatman is known for its male mating call.
Credit Piet Spaans / Wikipedia Creative Commons

The lesser water boatman is an insect usually found feeding on ponds and lakes across Europe. Only a few millimeters long, they look a bit like a sunflower seed with big black eyes and paddling arms.

They're not known for their good looks, but rather the male's mating call, which brings them the status of the loudest animal alive, relative to body size. The call is nearly 100 decibels, equivalent to standing a stone's throw away from a roaring freight train.

So how does this compare to animal kingdom? Well, many animals produce louder sounds. The blue whale, the worlds largest animal clocks in it 188 decibels. An elephant can reach 117. And cats purr along at a gentle 25.

It's the technical side of this story where things get strange. It's all in how the sound is made, a process called stridulation. This is a mating call, so it's only appropriate that a male lesser water boatman makes the sound with his reproductive organ. It's as thin as a human hair and able to wiggle hastily across its abdomen to produce the sound.

It might not help its confidence to know that researchers study its anatomy, amazed that something so small can produce so much volume, but the lesser water boatman can take some solace in the fact that the scientific findings aim to improve everything from sonar to medical applications.

Music: MCoast "Thinking of Illusions," Say It In Slang.

MCoast "Johnny Kasai," Say It In Slang.