Outforia QuickTake: Key Takeaways
- The loudest animal in the world is recognized as the blue whale, which produces long bursts of sound that reach 180 dB, due to the length of its calls, even though the sperm whale produces clicks that measure up to 230 dB.
- The Greater Bulldog Bat, Kakapo Parrot, Green Grocer Cicada, Elephant, Howler Monkey, and Coqui Frog are among the loudest land animals, each with unique ways of creating their sounds.
- Besides the Blue and Sperm Whales, the Tiger Pistol Shrimp, the Humpback Whale, and the Lesser Water Boatman are among the loudest marine animals, using their sounds for a range of purposes including hunting, communication, and mating.
- Sound travels differently in water than in air, with a much farther reach in water due to its high speed in this medium.
- Loud animal sounds are created for various reasons, such as territorial warnings, mate attraction, distress calls, feeding techniques, and long-distance communication.
The world is full of animal noise. Hoots, clicks, whistles, roars, and booms occupy every corner of the planet and continue deep under the sea. Sound is made for a variety of reasons, from searching for a mate to warning off competitors.
For instance, the sperm whale produces clicks that measure 230 dB. These are only produced for a fraction of a second, however.
The blue whale, on the other hand, produces long bursts of sound that reach 180 dB. As these calls are much longer, the blue whale is recognized as the loudest animal in the world.
Interestingly, human ears cannot hear all sounds. Some are outside the range of our hearing as the frequency of the sound is very low or high. They can still be very loud, though.
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The 6 Loudest Land Animals
1. Greater Bulldog Bat (Noctilio leporinus)
The Greater Bulldog Bats can call at a deafening 140 dB. It lives from Mexico down to South America. It uses its echolocation clicks to find frogs, fish, and crustaceans based on the ripples they make on the surface of the water. It also eats insects. It’s call is outside of normal human hearing range, so although it is terrifically loud, we can’t hear it.
Bulldog bats have cheek pouches they use to store food. Once they’ve seized prey in their sharp talons, they take it to a perch to eat it.
These bat species live in colonies in caves, rock crevices, trees, and attics. They are common and regarded as being of least concern on the IUCN list.
2. Kakapo parrot (Strigops habroptila)
Kakapos are part of the Parrot family of birds. The male’s mating call reaches 137 dB. He can be heard 4.3 miles (7 km) away. This makes them the loudest birds in the world. The males call to attract females, competing with the other kakapo males.
Kakapos live in New Zealand.
Kakapos are flightless and the heaviest species of parrot. They weigh from 4.4 to 8.8 lb (2-4 kg). They can live for up to 90 years. They are also nocturnal animals. Their flightless habit is one of the factors that has led to them becoming Critically Endangered.
Listen to its booming mating sounds here:
3. Green Grocer Cicada (Cyclochila australasiae)
The Greengrocer Cicada can produce a sound with a power of 120 dB. Despite their sounds being called songs, they don’t use their mouths to make noise. Instead, they have a drum-like organ on their abdomen. They contract special muscles to produce the sound.
This sound can travel up to a mile. Lots of cicadas calling together can confuse birds. Green Grocer cicadas live in eastern Australia.
There’s a good reason for their high-pitched calls. Adult cicadas don’t live for very long. They feed and grow as nymphs for 6 to 7 years before metamorphosing into adults. When they do, they concentrate all their energy on finding a mate.
Listen to a green grocer cicada’s sounds here:
4. Elephant (Loxodonta sps)
Elephants can produce powerful low-frequency sounds of up to 117 dB. Humans can’t hear them, though. This is because the sounds they make are so low that they fall into the infrasonic range.
Sounds this low in frequency are beyond the scope of human hearing. These sounds can travel 6 miles (9.6 km) in good weather conditions.
Elephants species can produce many different sounds; grumbles, roars, barks, snorts, and trumpets are a few of them. Their enormous ears are very sensitive.
Listen to their trumpet-like sounds here:
5. Howler monkey (Alouatta sps)
Howler monkeys are the loudest of all monkeys. They can reach 90 to 140 dB, according to some sources. Their cries can be heard up to 3 miles (4.8 km) away. They live in Central and South America. They live in tree canopies. They eat leaves, flowers, fruit, and bugs.
Male howler monkeys make the loud calls. They have special shell-like vocal chambers and large, expandable throats. This increases the volume of their calls. Howlers are the biggest of the New World monkeys
The hyoid bone in a howler monkey’s throat amplifies its call. Howler monkeys are very territorial. This, combined with trying to impress women, is why they call.
Listen to their howling sounds here:
6. Coqui frog (Eleutherodactylus coqui)
The Coqui frog’s screeching call can reach 100 dB. That’s louder than some power tools. Coqui frogs come from Puerto Rico but have spread throughout Hawaii. The males will call from dawn to dusk until they find a mate. Their call sounds like “KO-kee”, hence their name.
Coqui frogs have become an invasive species in Hawaii as they have no native predators. They eat crawling insects. They are well loved in their native Puerto Rico.
The female coqui doesn’t sing. Instead, she judges the singing competition between the males.
Listen to the singing of coqui frogs here:
The 5 Loudest Marine Animals
Marine animals have an even larger distance to deal with in the oceans. Many have developed powerful calls or echolocation to aid them in communication with others.
1. Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
This vast marine mammal can sing at an incredible 180 decibels. Its booming songs have a purpose: to communicate with other blue whales thousands of kilometers away.
Blue whales are normally solitary, so they need a huge larynx (voicebox) to make enough noise to find a mate and socialize.
The Blue Whale is recognized as the loudest animal overall in the animal kingdom. This is because, although Sperm whales have a louder call, it’s only fractions of a second long. The Blue Whale can make sustained calls at a high decibel level.
Blue whales are baleen whales. They feed using plates of baleen, which can filter their food out of the seawater.
2. Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus)
The sperm whale produces loud clicks for echolocation. It uses these to locate prey in the depths of the sea. Each click can be 230 dB. The Sperm whale’s clicks only last a fraction of a second, however. This is why the Blue Whale is still regarded as the loudest marine animal.
The sperm whale uses its clicks to locate prey such as Giant Squid. It can detect these at depths of 1,800 feet (549 meters). The spermaceti organ and oil inside its wedge-like head help the whale focus and locate sounds.
Echolocation works by the whale producing powerful clicks in a particular direction. These bounce off objects and return to the whale as sound waves. With this, the whale builds up an accurate picture of its surroundings.
Listen to their clicking sounds here:
3. Tiger Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus bellulus)
There are several species of pistol shrimp in the family Alpheidae. They are characterized by one of their claws. This is massive compared to the others. It works like a hammer and anvil. The Tiger Pistol shrimp can produce sounds up to 200 dB. This is louder than a gunshot.
The muscles put the claw under huge tension. When released, they produce a jet stream that creates an area of low pressure in the water in front of them. This causes a bubble of air to form from the surrounding water.
When the bubble implodes, it makes a snapping sound. Moving at 60 mph (96 km/h), the bubble effectively stuns its prey.
Hundreds of species of pistol shrimp are found in temperate and tropical waters all over the world.
4. Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
Humpback whales are well known as the virtuoso singers of the animal kingdom. Their complex songs can reach 126 to 158 dB. This measurement is from a study carried out in Hawaii. The subject was an adult male escorting a mother humpback and her calf.
These songs are carried out over long periods of time and in close proximity. Obviously, they don’t have the same drastic effect on whale eardrums as they would on ours.
A humpback whale’s low-frequency song can travel up to 10,000 miles (16,000km). Whale species have better hearing than us. They are able to hear frequencies in the range of 30 Hertz to about 8,000 Hz. So humans can only hear part of a whale’s song.
Listen to humpback whale’s sound here:
5. Lesser Water Boatman (Corixa punctate)
The Lesser Water Boatman male can make a call reaching 99 dB. Considering this insect only grows up to the size of a pea, that’s quite impressive.
The Lesser Water Boatman lives in freshwater, not the sea. It’s still a water-dwelling creature, so it’s made it onto this list.
The male makes this noise by rubbing his penis against his abdomen. This is known as ‘stridulation’. He does this to attract a mate. How sexy. An average sound from a male water boatman reaches 78 dB, which is comparable to a passing train.
Listen to a water boatman sound here:
Does Sound Travel Differently Underwater?
Sound in the ocean can travel further than it would in the air. In water, sound can move at 1500 meters per second (4921 feet per second). In the air, it moves at 340 meters per second (1115 feet per second).
Temperature has an influence on how sound travels. Sound travels faster in warm water than in cold water.
There is even a deep-sea channel in the ocean called the SOFAR channel. This stands for Sound Fixing and Ranging. Low-frequency sounds travel thousands of meters without loss of signal in this area of the deep sea.
Downed pilots made good use of this. They exploded a small charge underwater. The frequencies from this could be heard from very far away and used to pinpoint the pilot for rescue.
Why Do Animals Make Loud Noises?
Animals make loud noises because they are either:
- Territorial, and warning other members of the same species to stay away
- Advertising for a mate
- Making warning or distress calls
- Feeding with a special technique
- Communicating over long distances
Dog barks are a good example of a warning or distress call. A dog’s bark can reach 113 dB. Dogs rank as one of the world’s loudest animals. You will realize this the next time they bark next to your ear in a car.
Wolves howl to emphasize the borders of their territory. Pistol shrimp make noise as part of their hunting technique. Baleen whales sing to communicate and find mates.
The Decibel Scale
When describing loud animal sounds, it helps to compare them to the decibel scale. This shows the range of quiet to loud sounds that we hear in everyday life.
On the low end, breathing has an intensity of 10 dB. A whisper is 30 dB. Normal conversation is around 60 dB. At the high end, a police car siren is 120 dB, and fireworks are 140 dB.
Each time the decibel level goes up by 10 dB, it has increased in power 10 times. So 20 dB is much more powerful than 10 dB. It’s not twice as powerful. It’s ten times more powerful.
Decibel levels underwater are not the same intensity as decibels measured on land. Water is a good conductor of sound.
Sound is measured in decibels (dB) and Hertz (Hz). Here we will explain what these measurements represent.
Decibels are used to measure the intensity of a sound. They measure the amount of energy produced over a certain time period in one direction. This is known as the intensity or, in other words, the power of the sound.
The “bel” in decibel is the unit for measuring intensity. This is named after Sir Alexander Graham Bell, the man who invented the telephone. A decibel is one tenth of a bel. We tend to use decibels because the human ear is so sensitive that it can detect much smaller variations in intensity than a bel can describe.
Frequency is measured in Hz (Hertz). This is the number of cycles per second. The higher the number of cycles, the higher the frequency. Hz is used to measure many sorts of waves, including electromagnetism, electric currents, and sound.
The Hertz measurement is named after Heinrich Hertz, a 19th-century German physicist. Our ears can only pick up frequencies from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, and that’s if you have perfect hearing. Many animals can hear frequencies outside of the human hearing spectrum.
Infrasonic and Ultrasonic Frequencies
Infrasonic frequencies are too low to be heard by the human ear. They are lower than 20 Hz. They can still be very loud. Some good examples of infrasonic sounds are:
- The electromagnetic field of the Earth (this can be heard by pigeons)
- Avalanches, volcanoes, large sea waves, and meteors
- Giraffes, elephants, and whales use infrasound to communicate over long distances.
Elephants can make loud infrasonic calls that reach 117 dB. Despite this, humans can’t hear them.
Ultrasonic frequencies are too high to be heard by human ears. They are over 20,000 Hz. Children can hear higher frequencies than adults, especially older adults. There’s still a wide range of frequencies that we can’t hear, though.
Loudest Animal FAQs
What is the loudest insect in the world?
The loudest insect in the world is the cicada. Some species of cicadas can produce sounds exceeding 120 decibels.
How do loud animals avoid disturbing their own species with their sounds?
Many animals have evolved unique ways to prevent damage from their own loud sounds. For instance, when a cicada produces a loud sound, it retracts its tympana to avoid damaging its own hearing. Similarly, the howler monkey uses the shape and position of their specialized vocal sacs to direct the sound away from the rest of the group.
Does the size of the animal correlate with the loudness of its sound?
Not necessarily. For instance, a small insect, the male water boatman, can produce sounds up to 99 decibels, equivalent to a passing subway train. It does this by rubbing its penis against its abdomen, an act known as stridulation.
Are these loud sounds harmful to other underwater creatures?
The loud clicks of a sperm whale are generally not harmful to other sea creatures. However, extremely high-intensity sounds can potentially cause harm. Research in this area is ongoing.
How loud is the human voice compared to that of these animals?
The loudest recorded human scream is about 129 decibels, which is much quieter than the sounds produced by many of the animals discussed in this article.