Wednesday, November 26, 2014 Headlines & Global News

Moths Have 15 Times Greater Sensitivity To Sounds Than Humans: Highest In The Whole Animal Kingdom

By Sam Lehman | May 09, 2013 10:41 AM EDT

Moths
Moths have 15 times greater sensitivity to sounds than humans: The greatest in the whole animal kingdom. (Photo : Reuters)

New research from the University of Strathclyde says the greater wax moth has the greatest sensitivity to sound in the whole animal kingdom.

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Researchers have found that the greater wax moths have the capability to sense sound frequencies up to 300 kHz, the highest recorded of any species' hearing capability, according to the University's news release.

 The greater wax moth otherwise known as honeycomb moth or Galleria Mellonella belongs to the Pyralidae family. The greater wax moths measuring about 1 1/2 inches long, lay their eggs in beehives where the larvae feed on the wax and the debris of the honeycombs, hence the name. But the extra-ordinary factor about these moths is their sensory characteristic.

The research team led by Dr. James Windmill, said that the discovery will help in better understanding the "air-coupled ultrasound."

"The use of ultrasound in air is extremely difficult as such high frequency signals are quickly weakened in air," Dr. Windmill said. "Other animals such as bats are known to use ultrasound to communicate and now it is clear that moths are capable of even more advanced use of sound."

In comparison to sound-sensitive dolphins, which sense sounds up to 160 kHz, greater wax moth still stands apart with its highest hearing capability. Humans can only hear sounds up to 20 kHz. Scientists say that the moth's super-sensitivity to sound may have been evolved as a result of evasion from their natural predators, bats.

Bats are known for their echolocation with which they can sense a presence of an object even in complete darkness. Echolocation helps bats in flight navigation and even hunting. Bats can accurately identify the location, size and direction or even a nature of an object by emitting ultrasonic chirps. Even with such accuracy, bats can only hear up to 212 kHz.

For the study, researchers used an advanced laser Doppler vibrometer to record the hearing of 20 moths. With the help of the findings, Dr. Windmill and his team hope to understand the gist of ultrasound transmission. With the highest capability of hearing sounds, studying moth's ear will represent the beginning of developing new technologies, which may be useful in miniature microphones or mobile devices.

The research was conducted at the University's Centre for Ultrasonic Engineering and published in Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

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