The Eleventh Finger of Franz Liszt

A Nonchalant Franz LisztIn my post about the lesser water boatman I drew a comparison to nineteenth century piano virtuoso Franz Liszt and my reasons for this must have seemed obscure at the time. With this post I would like to explain myself a little further. I also worry sometimes this blog may get too dry and technical with all the hard science, so I’m sure the reader will welcome a brief digression into cultural history and the arts, namely the life and work of Franz Liszt.

But you may object: Richard, like all scientists you must be a cold, dispassionate, narrow-minded “square” who eats plain bran cereal for breakfast, how could you possibly teach us anything about the fiery artistic life of Franz Liszt, who probably ate exciting things for breakfast, like cocaine pancakes with opium syrup. Well, it may surprise the reader to learn that in addition to the research I do here at PRIC, I am also a renowned Liszt scholar, and an all around “Lisztomaniac”. In fact there is a sizable overlap between the penile science and Liszt fandom communities. Why this is, I hope to now explain.

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The Greater Music of the Lesser Water Boatman

Pour yourself a glass of your finest Bordeaux, adorn your silkiest robe, fetch your most affectionate lap cat, and settle in for a treat, dear reader. What you are about to hear is the sumptuous song of the male Micronecta scholtzi, a small aquatic insect also known as the lesser water boatman.

Such skill, power, and grace! But especially power: The water boatman’s echemes can reach almost 100 decibels, as loud as hearing an orchestra play the first movement of Mahler’s 8th symphony from the front row. Yeah–that loud.  In fact, relative to its size it is the loudest animal on earth (Sueur et al. 2011).

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