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So small, so loud : extremely high sound pressure level from a pygmy aquatic insect (corixidae, micronectinae)

Sueur, Jerome and Mackie, David and Windmill, James (2011) So small, so loud : extremely high sound pressure level from a pygmy aquatic insect (corixidae, micronectinae). PLoS One, 6 (6). ISSN 1932-6203

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To communicate at long range, animals have to produce intense but intelligible signals. This task might be difficult to achieve due to mechanical constraints, in particular relating to body size. Whilst the acoustic behaviour of large marine and terrestrial animals has been thoroughly studied, very little is known about the sound produced by small arthropods living in freshwater habitats. Here we analyse for the first time the calling song produced by the male of a small insect, the water boatman Micronecta scholtzi. The song is made of three distinct parts differing in their temporal and amplitude parameters, but not in their frequency content. Sound is produced at 78.9 (63.6–82.2) SPL rms re 2.10−5 Pa with a peak at 99.2 (85.7–104.6) SPL re 2.10−5 Pa estimated at a distance of one metre. This energy output is significant considering the small size of the insect. When scaled to body length and compared to 227 other acoustic species, the acoustic energy produced by M. scholtzi appears as an extreme value, outperforming marine and terrestrial mammal vocalisations. Such an extreme display may be interpreted as an exaggerated secondary sexual trait resulting from a runaway sexual selection without predation pressure.