Greater wax moth 'can sense' highest recorded frequency

Greater wax moth Studies of the greater wax moth's ear could aid the development of new technologies

The greater wax moth is capable of hearing the highest recorded frequency of any animal in the natural world, researchers have discovered.

A team at Strathclyde University in Glasgow found the moth can sense sound frequencies of up to 300kHz.

Humans can only manage up to 20kHz, while dolphins, which use ultrasound, have limitations around 160kHz.

The university hopes the discovery will lead to new technological innovations, such as miniature microphones.

The findings, which have been published in the Royal Society journal, Biology Letters, were recorded at the university's centre for ultrasonic engineering.

Dr James Windmill, who led the research, said: "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.

Advanced use

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

"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."

Dr Windmill said it was not clear how the moths had developed this ability.

He added: "It is possible that they have had to improve the communication between each other to avoid capture from their natural predator - the bat - which use similar sounds."

Dr Windmill and his colleagues now want to develop their understanding of ultrasound and how to transmit and receive ultrasonic pulses travelling in air.

His team is working to apply the study of the greater wax moths and other insect ears to the design of micro-acoustic systems.

It is hoped that by studying the unprecedented capabilities of the moth's ear, the team can produce new technological innovations, such as miniature microphones.

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