Smug as a Bug in a Rug

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Closeup of L. psittacus
Photo by Joi Ito (CC BY 2.0)
The critically endangered Tunisian parrot beetle (Leptinotarsa psittacus) is the only species of insect capable of imitating human speech. It uses this talent to scare off predators, which universally fear humans.

The beetle's extra-precise antennae can pick up sound waves from up to ten yards away or more. After picking up a suitable sound, it spins a cocoon where it will hibernate for three weeks, processing the audio data. Once it has emerged from its cocoon, it can use the tymbals on its hind legs to reproduce the sound.

But here's the crazy part: the parrot beetle can only play back a sound once! After that, it must begin the recording and processing steps all over again. A single parrot beetle can use more than 500 sounds in its lifetime!

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