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By Stephen M. Tomecek

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Extra info for Animal Communication (Animal Behavior)

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Scientists measure the intensity or loudness of a sound by a unit called the decibel, or dB for short. As you might expect, sounds made by different animals cover a full range of intensities. They can be very quiet (a cat purring is about 20 dB) or extremely loud (the scream of a howler monkey can reach more than 100 dB). The loudest animal sound reported is the song of the blue whale. It can reach intensities of up to 190 dB. Amplitude is only one part of a sound wave. Sound waves also can vary in frequency.

Infrasonic vibrations, or infrasound, have frequencies below 20 hz. Because we can’t hear them, scientists didn’t know until recently that animals made these sounds. in the early 1980s, ethologist katy payne was working with elephants at a zoo in portland, oregon. she felt some unusual (continues) African elephants are among those animals that communicate with sounds humans can’t hear. 52 AnimAl communicAtion (continued) vibrations in her chest. she suspected that the elephants were the source.

Like many species of fish, midshipman males build nests with their tails in tidal pools along the shore. Once a nest is built, the midshipman will “sing” to attract a female. If the female finds him desirable, she will lay her eggs in the nest and he will fertilize them. After fertilizing the first set of eggs, the male will sing again, trying to attract more females. A good vocalist can fill his nest with several thousand eggs from as many as a dozen different females. When a midshipman sings, he makes a low-frequency hum that can be picked up more than a mile away.

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