Scientists identify animal with world's most extreme hearing

May 8, 2013 at 2:27 PM
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GLASGOW, Scotland, May 8 (UPI) -- British researchers say they've found an insect that can hear at ultrasound frequencies up to 300 kHz, the highest recorded frequency sensitivity of any animal.

This is far greater than humans, whose hearing tops out at about 20 kHz, and even dolphins, known for ultrasound hearing, can only detect frequencies up to around 160 kHz, researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow said.

Research by the university's Center for Ultrasonic Engineering identified the extraordinary sensory characteristics of the insect, the greater wax moth.

"We are extremely surprised to find that the moth is capable of hearing sound frequencies at this level and we hope to use the findings to better understand air-coupled ultrasound," research leader James Windmill said.

"The use of ultrasound in air is extremely difficult as such high frequency signals are quickly weakened in air," he 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."

The moths may have evolved extraordinary hearing as a survival technique, the researchers said.

"It's not entirely clear how the moths have developed to be able to hear at such a high frequency but it is possible that they have had to improve the communication between each other to avoid capture from their natural predator -- the bat -- which uses similar sounds," Windmill said.

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