It’s easy to take hearing for granted. We hear a thousand things every day and much of it fades into the background. The hum of your refrigerator, cars on the road, wind in the leaves, and so much more. It is the wordless song of the modern world and it has too many verses to count. But every so often you hear a new sound in the cacophony, a sound you never thought you’d ever hear if for no other reason than you didn’t know such a sound even existed. And it turns out there are more of them than you’d think, so let’s check out ten.
10. A Blue Whale’s Heart Can be Heard 2 Miles Away
The blue whale is the largest animal that has ever lived. They even shame the mightiest of dinosaurs. They can grow to be 100 feet long and weigh over 200 tons. Even the largest dinosaur that ever lived, the Argentinosaurus, was only slightly longer thanks to its tail but weighed about 100 tons less.
If that wasn’t amazing enough, then dig a little deeper and look at the blue whale’s heart. The massive organ weighs 400 pounds. When they dive down to 1,000 feet below the surface, their heart can slow to just a few beats per minute. And the thunderous sound that their heartbeat makes can be heard as much as two miles away.
9. A Bee’s Penis Audibly Pops After Mating
The world of insects is harsh and devoid of compassion. We all know that the praying mantis female will eat the head off of her mate after they have bred, and many female spiders will make a meal of males if they can’t escape. Bugs have a rough deal and bees are no exception. Some bees die when they sting you and it turns out some die after mating as well. And not because the queen is vicious and homicidal like those mantises. Instead, it’s because the male breeds with such ferocity that it explodes his penis with an audible pop when he’s done.
All a male drone exists for is to potentially breed with a queen. They only live for about three months and they need to gather where a queen is and then duke it out to try to mate. A few drones, about one in 1000, will successfully breed. The rest miss their chance and will probably die of a life purpose unfulfilled.
Those who succeed endure the most explosive mating ritual ever. It may only last a few seconds, but once the male has successfully penetrated the queen, muscles in the thorax pressurize his penis so that it blasts out the needed genetic material with enough force to cause the penis itself to erupt right out of the bee’s body and remain inside the queen. .
8. The Caribbean Sea Makes a Whistling Sound That Can Be Detected In Space
There are a lot of noises in the world that come from some mundane, natural phenomena. Wind can howl in a cave, stone can rumble and crack with temperature shifts, and while it may sound vaguely ominous to human ears, it’s just the way the world works. That’s probably the best way to deal with the knowledge that the Caribbean sea whistles.
Based on decades of research, scientists noticed that something called a Rossby wave, which is a large kind of wave that moves west, has an unusual interaction with the ocean floor. It causes the wave to die out and then reappear again further away. While most waves die out, some survive and create an oscillation so powerful it actually affects the earth’s gravitational field.
The oscillations, described as “sloshing” occur every 120 days. The sound they produce, the whistle, is an A-flat and can be perceived by satellites in space though it’s actually below the audible range that a human ear could detect.
7. Numbers Stations Produce Mysterious Radio Signals
If you watched the show Lost back in the day, you’re all too familiar with the idea of mysterious numbers that maybe have a grand, important meaning in the world. And who knows, maybe numbers stations are telling us all the combination to a secret vault, or the identity of some mystery person, or the code for the end times. Or maybe it’s just spy stuff.
Sometime during the Cold War, shortwave radio operators began picking up bizarre transmissions. Sometimes they would include a short piece of music, but in general they were just lists. Letters or numbers recited by men, women, sometimes even children. Nothing more. The numbers were seemingly random.
To this day, numbers stations still exist. They still broadcast what may or may not be coded messages and the mystery of both who is sending them and to who they are being sent continues.
It’s believed these are communications to spies in other countries where normal communications cannot be used. Shortwave radio just goes out, it’s not being traced or altered and intercepted. The receiver cannot be tracked because anyone with a radio can hear it. They just need to know what the code means and, for everyone else, it’s mysterious gibberish.
6. You Can Hear the Giant Gippsland Earthworm Moving in its Tunnels
Though it’s not a hard and fast rule, it’s still often the case that the larger something in nature becomes, the creepier it gets. Even small, seemingly innocent animals become intimidating at a large enough size. So when you hear about a creature called the Giant Gippsland Earthworm you may already feel a little on edge. The longest one ever discovered was 13 feet long, and that makes it even more off putting.
Your average worm has the good graces to at least move around quietly, but not so the Giant Gippsland worm. Not only can you hear these creatures moving in their underground burrows and tunnels, it’s actually both very loud and rather similar to something having digestive difficulties. The sound is a gurgling, squelching, bubbling noise that comes from beneath the earth so you’ll never actually see the source, you’ll just hear it beneath your feet as you walk around.
5. The Acoustics in Part of Grand Central Station Allow You to Hear Whispers Across the Room
Traditionally, if you don’t want to be overheard by someone nearby, you whisper. Whispering is a surefire way to keep things on the down low and/or make yourself look even more suspicious in front of others who now know you’re saying something but trying to ensure they can’t hear it. It’s also the polite thing to do in a library or during a very boring work meeting.
Head to the dining area of Grand Central Station in New York City and you’ll discover that whispers are less than secret, at least in one part of the building. There’s a whispering gallery, a place where you can hear whispers from the other side of the room, even above the sound of a crowd, as long as you have your ear to the wall.
If one person stands against the wall of the archway, and a friend goes to the opposite side, they can hold a conversation thanks to clever acoustics, despite a whole crowd of people being between them.
4. You Can Hear the Sound of a Sea Urchin Grinding Its Tooth on Rocks
Sea urchins look like little aquatic cacti all covered with spikes, though they are animals. And there’s more going on under that spikey, plant-like exterior than most of us realize. For instance, if you flip a sea urchin over you’ll see a tiny hole on the underside which is the urchin’s mouth. And in that mouth, it has tiny calcite teeth that it uses to cut through rock and miraculously self-sharpens the entire time so it never goes dull.
Just as remarkable is that this process involved grinding those teeth and the sound can be heard. It’s been described as just part of the ambient sound of the ocean, little urchins chewing away on stone to carve holes in which to hide.
3. You Can Hear Caterpillar Poop
In the natural world there are countless sounds that we all recognize. The moo of a cow, the quack of a duck, and so on. Even some insects are easily identifiable by sounds like the buzzing of a bee or the chirping of a cricket. But what sound does a caterpillar make? Traditionally, not much of one. And it turns out that’s just because we weren’t listening hard enough or to large enough groups of them. If you try hard enough, you can hear the sound of caterpillars pooping.
In the case of the gypsy moth caterpillar you’re not necessarily hearing a grunt or other biological sound. Gypsy moth caterpillars have a habit of breeding in plague-like numbers. Some years thousands of them can swarm an area. When that happens, so many of them can congregate in an area that the sound you’re hearing is the plopping of thousands of caterpillar poops hitting the ground like the soft patter of rain.
2. Some Kinds of Tinnitus Can Be Heard By Outside Listeners
William Shatner famously suffers from tinnitus thanks to a mishap on the set of the original Star Trek series back in 1969. A special effects explosion caused damage to both Shatner and Leonard Nimoy’s hearing which left him with what he described as a static-like hiss in his ears which continues to this day. This is typically what people with tinnitus experience, a ringing or hissing sound that does not come from an outside source.
There is one kind of tinnitus that is significantly more unusual than the rest, what is sometimes called objective tinnitus. This kind makes a sound that someone else can hear. Usually that requires a stethoscope but in some cases it can be heard just by putting your ear to the ear of the person suffering from it, like you’re listening to a seashell on the beach.
Venous tinnitus is one specific form of objective tinnitus that can be heard by outside listeners. It’s caused by changes in blood flow, often because of anemia. It’s basically hearing your own blood in your veins, and you’ll usually notice it in your right ear more than the left.
1. Perseverance Recorded the Sound of Mars in 2021
One of the most amazing things you could ever hope to hear as a human, as a thinking, living thing on the planet Earth, is the sound of another world. Maybe in 1000 years that will be as boring as listening to the wind here at home. But now, today, when not a single person has ever set foot on an alien world, it’s pretty amazing. And thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover, we actually have access to the sounds of Mars.
In February 2021, the first ever Martian sounds were recorded, giving scientists the opportunity to study the acoustic landscape of the red planet. The idea was that they would be able to glean new information about the planet to help us understand it better. After all, every little bit helps. If the planet had a pervasive dance beat in the background, that would be a significant find.
Despite what you might think, the rover’s two microphones were not over-engineered in the slightest. In fact, they were off the shelf and are commercially available. You can listen to the sounds yourself and hear Martian wind, and the sound of the rover tooling around up there including the sound of it shooting lasers at rocks. It’s not very exciting in practice, the sounds are not incredibly unusual, but the idea of hearing anything in an atmosphere that alters how sound works compared to what we hear on Earth is pretty amazing.