For much of Eastern America, the summer air was filled with the droning racket of the Brood X cicadas.
Also known as the Great Eastern Brood, these thumb-sized flying insects are 1 of 15 periodical cicada broods that hatch in the United States every 13 or 17 years.
While this life cycle is fascinating, the inherent interestingness of these bugs is far overshadowed by their noise!
Males will gather in bunches and call for females, and their call can be heard for miles. In fact, large groups of these male calls can reach up to 100 decibels!
Surely, 100-decibel cicadas have to be the loudest insects in the world, right?
The loudness of bugs range from creature to creature, so we’ve compiled a list of 7 of the loudest insect in the world ranked by decibels.
In this article we will:
- Explain how to measure the volume of insects
- List 7 of the loudest insects in the world
- Describe how and why these creepy-crawlies are so loud!
How to Measure the Loudness of Insects
Just like we use inches or centimetres to measure length, or the Fujita scale to measure the strength of a tornado, sound also has its own unit of measurement.
The decibel (dB) scale is used to measure the intensity and amplitude of the sound. The loudness of a sound determines its amplitude.
For example, some common sounds and their decibel ratings are:
- An almost silent room – 0 dB
- A conversation at normal volume – 60 dB
- The horn of a car – 110 dB
- A gunshot or fireworks – 140 dB
We will use the decibel scale to measure the loudest of insects, so to give you a good baseline, let’s look at a common insect sound that almost everyone is familiar with.
A buzzing fly comes in at around 4 decibels.
The buzzing of a fly can be annoying, but since we’ve all experienced it, it will give you a good idea of how astronomically loud some of these other insects can really be!
In the following list, we will go well and beyond 4 dB!
Number 7: Bees (Anthophila)
Another all-to-familiar sound of summer is the buzzing of bees. These stinging, fuzzy, pollen couriers can get quite loud, depending on their level of agitation.
If a hive is without a queen, its agitation level is at its highest. These incredibly agitated bees can reach a volume of 65 decibels!
How do Bees Make Their Noise?
Bees, unlike some other insects on our list, aren’t making their noise to attract a mate. Instead, this buzzing sound is a product of their incredibly rapid wing beats.
Some bees can even make their wings beat 230 times per second! This crazy quick movement is what causes their buzz.
Buzzing isn’t just a byproduct of flight for all species of bees, though. Some species of honeybees utilize their intrinsic buzziness to knock pollen off of flowers and onto their bodies, which is a pretty efficient way to harvest!
Number 6: Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria)
Know for decimating crops and even blocking out the sun in their enormous swarms, the Desert Locust is quite the pest. But did you know these dreaded insects are also audibly infuriating?
In their gregarious phase, the desert locust can produce stridulations of up to 98 decibels. These stridulations are mating calls.
Locusts are actually certain species of grasshoppers that, under certain environmental circumstances, will morph from their solitary phase, in which they live alone and are harmless, to their gregarious phase, in which they form swarms.
How do Desert Locusts Make Their Noise?
Desert locusts create their sounds with a process called stridulation. Stridulation is a sound made by rubbing two sections of the insect’s body together.
Locusts stridulate by scraping the edges of their front wings with spines on the inside surface of their hind legs.
Number 4: European Mole Cricket (Gryllotalpa gryllotalpa)
Unlike some of the extremely widespread insects on our list, the European Mole Cricket is on the endangered species list in several European countries, meaning you may not have heard this cricket’s enigmatic trill.
Male Mole crickets will burrow into the ground and lure in females for mating by singing a song that reaches up to 96 decibels.
How do Europen Mole Crickets Make Their Noise?
Like the locust, the European Mole Cricket uses stridulation to create sound.
Mole crickets, like other crickets, stridulate by scraping the back edge of the left-wing against the lower surface of the right forewing.
This mating song is always sung underground by a burrowed male Mole cricket, and shockingly, the sound can vibrate the ground up to 20 centimetres away from the burrow!
Number 4: Katydids (Tettigoniidae)
Loudness – 98dB
It’s hard to narrow down which member of the enormous family Tettigoniidae is the loudest of them all, but one thing is for sure, these katydids, as they are commonly known, have quite the song to sing.
On average, katydids can make a noise that clocks in at 98 dB, sometimes rising as high as 110 decibels!
How do Katydids Make Their Noise?
Katydids produce their sound through stridulation. Katydids rub their forewings together to produce this sound.
Like most insects, male katydids make their loud noises, known as trills, to find a mate. In some species, females can also trill.
Number 3: Water Boatmen (Micronecta scholtzi)
Water Boatmen want the world to know one thing: Mighty things can come in small packages! Measuring at only 2cm long, these water-dwelling insects make up for their diminutive size with a sound that is anything but small.
While most of the Water Boatmen’s song is lost in the water, scientists have used underwater microphones to record the Water Boatmen calling for mates at a volume of 99.2 decibels.
How do Water Boatmen Make Their Noise?
Water Boatmen also use stridulation to make their extremely loud mating calls. But instead of using wings, the Water Boatmen incorporates a rather strange method of stridulation.
Rubbing ridges on their penises across ridges on their abdomens, Water Boatmen create a mating call so loud that it can be heard from the shore, even though it’s being created by a minuscule insect of the bottom of a lake!
Number 2: Periodical Cicada/Brood X Cicada (Magicicada)
Fresh in the mind of millions of Americans, the Periodical Cicada, a group in which the Brood X cicadas are a part of, ranks number 2 on our list of the loudest insects.
While it isn’t the overall loudest, it gets pretty close, and when in large groups, the mating call of the male Periodical Cicada can be ear piercing.
Averaging between 65db and 85dB, the mating call of the Periodical Cicada can reach 100dB, which is almost as loud as a running lawnmower! Periodical Cicadas also use this sound to warn away predators when they get too close.
How do Periodical Cicadas Make Their Noise?
Periodical Cicadas have an organ that is almost completely unique in the insect world: the tymbal organ.
By expanding and contracting this tymbal organ, which consists of ridged membranes between abdomen segments, cicadas produce a call that sounds continuous to the human ear.
Cicadas also have air sacs inside of them that help to resonate their calls to make them even louder, which is why summer days and nights seem to be constantly full of ever-present cicada sound.
Number 1: African Cicada (Brevisana brevis)
Ranking above their American cousins, the African Cicada is by far our loudest bug in the world, taking the top spot on our list of ear-drum-shattering insects!
African Cicadas mating calls can reach 107 decibels in volume, which is almost as loud as a firework or a chainsaw, both of which are an average of 110 decibels in volume.
How do African Cicadas Make Their Noise?
It’s no simple task to become the world’s loudest insect, but it just so happens that African Cicadas are specially built to do just that. When you’re a lady cicada, nothing is more attractive than a loud male.
Just like the Periodical Cicada, the African Cicada has a tymbal organ, something that is almost never found in any other insect.
By contracting and expanding this organ, the African Cicada makes its call, which is amplified by the resonant air sacs inside of the cicada.
This cicada sound can seem even louder because male African Cicadas like to group together to make their calls, creating almost painfully loud patches of sound near these gatherings.
Brood X has certainly impacted the minds and ears of many people this past summer, but as loud as they were, they aren’t the loudest insect out there.
Incorporating unique and wonderful ways of creating sound, insects can let each other know their locations, find a mate, and even help to pollinate flowers.
Our list of 7 of the loudest insect in the world ranked by decibels is full of the weird, interesting, and of course, the loud. We hope you’ve learned something new, and maybe even began to appreciate the drone of our resident insects.
Alright, that’s it for this article, here are a few hand-selected articles that you might also find interesting reads:The Top 10 Strongest Bugs – This surprised me!
Top 6 Most Beautiful Insects in North America
Top 10 fastest flying insects in the world
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