THE NEW FOREST CICADA had not been seen in seven years when it caught the attention of Alex Rogers, an ecologist and computer scientist at the University of Oxford. The insect is the only cicada native to the British Isles. It spends 7-8 years underground as a nymph, then emerges, reproduces and dies within six weeks. During its short adult life, it produces a high-pitched hiss that would make it easier to detect, were it not at the upper limit of human hearing. Its call is audible to children but not to most adults. It can, however, be picked up by smartphone microphones. This led to the invention of AudioMoth, an “acoustic logger” that can be set to listen for a particular sound and record it.

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The device takes its name from the fact that moths can hear sounds across a wide frequency spectrum. It is…

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