7 of the Loudest Animals on Earth

Yellow Monday Cicada
The yellow Monday cicada (Cyclochila australasiae) is one of the two loudest cicadas. Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock

First thing in the morning, when the sun has barely peeked over the horizon and you want to snuggle under the covers, the loudest animals in the world (well, in your world) are probably your cat yowling and your dog begging for breakfast. We don't dispute that.

However, scientists have measured the sounds made by animals in the wild, and they, too, are very, very loud. Maybe even louder than your pets first thing in the morning, but probably not. However, we're just saying that there are animals that can create sounds so loud they could burst our human eardrums. Not even your cat can do that, though she may try.

Before we dive in, let's look at what qualifies as loud for humans' ears.

How Loud Is Too Loud?

Human hearing has two components: frequency and intensity. As far as the frequency of sound waves goes, the human hearing range falls between 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Younger humans, like infants, can hear higher sounds.

As for intensity, humans can tolerate sounds up to about 120 decibels, which is the equivalent of a rock concert. As such, you do not want to expose yourself to sounds at that level regularly.

According to National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, "Sounds at or below 70 A-weighted decibels (dBA), even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss. However, long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 dBA can cause hearing loss."

Loudest Sounds

A few of the animals in this article are behind some of the loudest recorded sounds, a list that also includes the Saturn V Rocket (204 decibels) and gunfire (about 140 decibels).

greengrocer cicada
The greengrocer cicada, which is the green version of the yellow Monday cicada, can produce sounds nearly loud enough to burst a human eardrum. Wikimedia/(CC BY-SA 3.0)

7. Cicadas

Two species of this bug — the greengrocer cicada and the yellow Monday cicada — are the loudest sound-producing insects. The males of both species can make sounds up to 120 decibels.

It can sound like cicadas are screaming their lungs out at absolutely everything (aren't we all?), but actually, they are vibrating the drum-like exoskeleton of their abdomen. Their tummy calls are species-specific so they don't attract females they can't mate with.

Part of the parrot family, the Australian kakapo has a mating call so loud, we're surprised it attracts a significant other. Robin Bush/Getty Images

6. Kakapo

Our next loudest animal is also the loudest bird, the kakapo. This New Zealand native's mating call can be as loud as 132 decibels.

The nocturnal and flightless kakapo holds a couple of other records, too. It's the heaviest parrot species in the world, at 4.85 pounds (2.2 kilograms) for the males. And it's the longest-lived bird — they're known to reach their 90th birthday.

Coiba Black Island howler Monkey on a tree in Colombia
According to one study, the more imposing a howler monkey's roar, the smaller its testes. Circle Creative Studio / Getty Images

5. Howler Monkeys

Howler monkeys may be the size of a small dog, but they make a very loud sound. Their low-pitched noises can reach 140 decibels. And it's no wonder they can make such earth-shattering sounds.

"The vocal folds of a howler monkey are three times longer than a human's, yet they are 10 times smaller," said Jacob Dunn, the lead researcher on a study about the correlation between a howler monkey's noise levels and testes.

Apparently, the study found that the more imposing a howler monkey's roar, the smaller its testes.

Bulldog bat
The greater bulldog bat uses echolocation, which is super loud to its prey. Thankfully, our human ears can't hear it. Carol Farneti Foster/Getty Images

4. Greater Bulldog Bat

The greater bulldog bat, which is native to the Caribbean, uses echolocation to find food, like all bats. But instead of the more typical insects, these bats feed on fish. That means bulldog bats need to emit a sound that can penetrate both air, where they fly, and water, where their food swims.

Their echolocations can reach 140 decibels, which is equivalent to a jet engine.

But we humans get lucky again in sharing the world with these bats, since these exceptionally loud sounds are ultrasonic, meaning they're outside the range of human hearing.

blue whale
The blue whale is the largest mammal on Earth and one of the loudest. Wikimedia/(CC BY-SA 3.0)

3. Blue Whale

One of the loudest animals on Earth is also the largest animal on Earth. The blue whale's call can reach 188 decibels. We share the planet with blue whales and pistol shrimp, so how do we even have eardrums if these animals are so loud?

The fact that these creatures live underwater and we do not protects us. If we did live in the sea, we'd be able to hear the song of the blue whale as far as 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) away.

pistol shrimp
The tiger pistol shrimp doesn't make any sounds, but the bubble it makes with its claw generates a shockwave that can surpass 200 decibels. Paul Starosta/Getty Images

2. Tiger Pistol Shrimp

Pow pow! This little Mediterranean shrimp, also known as snapping shrimp, doesn't make sounds with its mouth, or even technically with its body. It uses its huge claw to shoot jets of water with such force that it creates an air bubble. When this bubble implodes, it generates a shockwave of more than 200 decibels.

This shockwave can kill other shrimp as far as 6.5 feet (2 meters) away, and it creates a flash of light as hot as the sun. For reference, the threshold for human pain — where pure sound causes most people to feel pain in their ears — is 120 decibels. Human eardrums will rupture at 160 decibels. That's some shrimp!

Sperm whale just below the surface of blue water
Even if it weren't underwater, the sound a sperm whale makes would reach 170 decibels. Gerard Soury / Getty Images

1. Sperm Whale

Sperm whales produce one of the loudest sounds, with their clicks and calls coming in as high as 230 decibels. However, as humans, we won't understand how powerfully noisy they are.

"Interestingly, I found out that underwater versus in the air are not the same," James Stewart, an Oregon Zoo employee who formerly worked at the Aquarium of the Pacific, told HowStuffWorks in 2020.

"A sound created underwater would be about 60 decibels less in the air," he continued. "So if a sperm whale could make a sound next to you at your desk, it would reach 170 decibels. And that is still louder than almost anything on land. The bulldog bat can reach 140 decibels. Now, with all that said, we can't hear any of those noises because they are being emitted at a frequency that we cannot hear, thankfully."

Now That's Disturbingly Loud

The loudest animal for its size is the water boatman. This little bug is found in many parts of the world, and the males can make sounds up to 99 decibels. It uses a technique called "stridation," which means it rubs its reproductive organ against its abdomen to create this loud, ultrasonic sound. No one said that all the sounds of nature are soothing.

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Original article: 7 of the Loudest Animals on Earth

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