The World According To Sound: Ultrasonics

2:57 minutes

a large bright green insect that looks like a leaf
A green leaf-looking katydid (Viadana brunneri) perched on a branch. Credit: Christian Ziegler

The mating calls of the katydid, a large insect, are ultrasonic, beyond the audible limit of human hearing. What if we could hear them?

That’s the focus behind a collaboration between the abstract audio podcast The World According To Sound and scientist Laurel Symes, the assistant director of the Center for Conservation Bioacoustics at Cornell University. In this recording, you’ll hear the sounds of one of her study animals—a group of katydids in a forest in Panama.

Bill McQuay, sound engineer and an audio producer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, slowed down Symes’ recording so you can hear a whole world of ultrasonic activity open up, from ultrasonic mating calls of katydids to the ultrasonic pings of bats echolocating their next meal.

The World According to Sound is a live audio show, online listening series, and miniature podcast that focuses on sound, not story. Producers Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett create intentional, communal listening experiences as a way to “reclaim autonomy in a visually dominated world that is increasingly fracturing our attention.”

This katydid recording and more are a part of their next listening series, an immersive listening party where audiences from all over the globe will be invited to experience a world of sound together, beginning in January 2022. You can get a ticket to the series here.

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Segment Guests

Chris Hoff

Chris Hoff is the co-producer of The World According To Sound podcast. He’s based in San Francisco, California.

Sam Harnett

Sam Harnett is the co-producer of The World According To Sound podcast. He’s based in San Francisco, California.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: Before we head to our break, here’s a treat for your ears, a sci-fi soundscape from Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett of The World According to Sound podcast.


CHRIS HOFF: This is a forest in Panama. It was recorded by Laurel Symes. Sound engineer Bill McQuay slowed her recording down so we can hear all the ultrasonic frequencies.


CHRIS HOFF: Those high pitched sounds are bats using echolocation to find insects to eat. The lower ones are katydids sending out mating calls.


IRA FLATOW: These sounds are part of a communal listening series The World According to Sound is hosting this winter. For more about their 80-minute binaural events, visit theworldaccordingtosound.org.

Meet the Producers and Host

About Kyle Marian Viterbo

Kyle Marian Viterbo is a community manager at Science Friday. She loves sharing hilarious stories about human evolution, hidden museum collections, and the many ways Indiana Jones is a terrible archaeologist.

About John Dankosky

John Dankosky works with the radio team to create our weekly show, and is helping to build our State of Science Reporting Network. He’s also been a long-time guest host on Science Friday. He and his wife have three cats, thousands of bees, and a yoga studio in the sleepy Northwest hills of Connecticut. 

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