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Tiny fish can make noises louder than an elephant, says new study

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Posted at 11:21 PM, Feb 27, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-27 23:21:57-05

A small species of fish that measures no more than half an inch in length is capable of producing sounds louder than an elephant, according to a new study.

Danionella cerebrum, tiny translucent fish that live in shallow waters off Myanmar, can make noises of more than 140 decibels, an international team of scientists report in a press release published Tuesday.

“This is comparable to the noise a human perceives of an airplane during take-off at a distance of 100 meter and quite unusual for an animal of such diminutive size,” said study author Ralf Britz, an ichthyologist at the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Dresden, Germany, in the press release.

Large animals tend to be capable of producing louder noises than small ones, with elephants able to make sounds up to 125 decibels with their trunks.

However, some small animals can make incredibly loud noises for their size, including the snapping shrimp, which use their claws to make popping sounds that measure up to 250 decibels, the release adds.

There are also some fish species that make unusually loud noises, such as the male plainfin midshipman fish, which is capable of making mating calls up to 130 decibels, but Danionella cerebrum appears to be unique among fish.

Researchers used high-speed video recordings, micro-CT scans and analyzed genetic information to show that males of the species “possess a unique sound-generating apparatus that includes drumming cartilage, a specialized rib, and a fatigue-resistant muscle,” the press release said.

The fish make noise by hitting the cartilage against their swim bladder, a gas-filled organ that allows them to maintain depth in water, which produces a rapid pulse.

Higher frequency pulses were produced by compressing the swim bladder from left and right sides in an alternating pattern, while lower frequency pulses were created using repeated unilateral compressions on the same side of the body.

“No other fish has been reported to use repeated unilateral muscle contractions for sound production,” reads the study.

The use of both bilateral and unilateral contractions means that a greater variety of sounds can be produced, according to the study, and researchers say the fish use the pulses to communicate with each other in turbid waters.

“We assume that the competition between the males in this visually restrictive environment contributed to the development of the special mechanism for acoustic communication,” said Britz.

The study was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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