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Humans can’t match moth for hearing

The New York TimesMay 19, 2013 

The greater wax moth can sense frequencies up to 300 kilohertz; humans can hear only up to 20 kilohertz. (Cologne, Germany, Zoo photo)


Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want the greater wax moth to hear. Researchers from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, reported that the moth has the world’s most extreme hearing.

The researchers determined that the moth can sense sound frequencies of up to 300 kilohertz. Humans can hear sounds up to 20 kHz. Dolphins, known for their keen sense of hearing, are incapable of hearing above about 160 kHz.

Like most things in nature, there’s a reason the greater wax moth’s hearing is so sensitive.

“The moth’s hearing has evolved because of predation,” said Hannah Moir, one of the researchers involved in the study, which was published in Biology Letters.

Bats use high-frequency echolocation calls to hunt the moths and other insects. But it appears that the moths can hear at frequencies that bats may not.

”It’s a bit of a question as to why the moths actually need to hear that high,” Moir said.

She added that recording at high-frequency ultrasound is a challenge, so it may be that the bats are capable of emitting calls as high as the moths can hear.

Moir and her colleagues used a custom-built ultrasonic transducer that emitted high frequencies and then measured the moths’ neural responses with electrodes.

Studying the structure and functionality of the greater wax moth’s ear could help researchers build miniature microphones, Moir said.

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