Episode 398: Like Moths to a Flame

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Zombie Cliche Lookout: Shh! Shh! Guys! Be Quiet!

There’s a lot of common knowledge out there about zombies. You gotta shoot ’em in the head, et cetera, et cetera. One classic example is that zombies are drawn to loud noises, especially gunshots, like a moth to a flame. Depending on the story, the zombies can be drawn in from quite a distance, which suggests that the zombies have some sort of super-human hearing that allows them to triangulate the position of a gunshot.

This is one that kind of bothers me, because I like to think of zombies as basically human in ability, with the exception of not being susceptible to pain and severe trauma beyond something that would destroy their brain. That’s enough super power for me. If I’m out in the woods and hear a few gunshots in the distance, I might be able to figure out a general direction. That’s about it. If it’s just the one shot, I doubt I’d be able to do that much. Now maybe my hearing is below average, but I sincerely doubt many people could track down the source of a gunshot over any appreciable difference, and in my mind, that means zombies can’t either.

About this Episode:

I’m hoping this is one of the last episodes inside the darkened store. It’s just been a pain to shoot in. The darkness is one thing, but it’s also kind of tough to get decent angles. I get bored of shooting from the same handful.

Discussion Question: Zombie Hearing

You probably saw this one coming, right? So here it is: how well should zombies be able to track loud noises over a distance? About the same as a regular person? A little worse because of damage and decay? A little better because they’re freakin’ zombies?

42 thoughts on “Episode 398: Like Moths to a Flame”

  1. After Christmas, I’m going to do a complete list of things I have got for my preparation box.

    • I hope Santa brings you that flame thrower.

  2. Typo alerts: Zombie Cliche Lookout: First paragraph, fourth sentence; Quiet should be “quite” in “quite a distance”.

    About this Episode, fourth sentence: “board” should be “bored”! 😀

    • Ah, dammit. I’m on it.

      Thanks BV.

      • Of course, if a real zombie apocalypse happens, bored (sic) yourself up, the zombies won’t be able to spell anyway and all of them will want your autograph but won’t want to bite you! 😀

        • Hah! That one got a real laugh out of me.

  3. Regarding the comic; I wonder if Murphy is trying to say that the shotgun isn’t loaded, will send Brent recoiling backwards when he tries to shoot a zombie, or he recognized somebody who’s not yet a zombie? 😀

    • I hadn’t thought about the recoil. For someone not used to it, a 12 gauge shooting 00 buck would probably be quite a surprise.

      • It would certainly put a nice bruise on the cheek…

        Ah, I love buckshot. 😉

        • Agreed Bo
          Shotguns have a lot of drawbacks. They are heavy, loud, and the recoil is pretty bad. The ammo is heavy and bulky and (with the rare exception of a few very expensive tactical models that have replaceable magazines) they take a long time to reload. But when you weigh all the negatives against the massive amount of damage they can inflict at close range and the relatively low price tag, they are still one of the best weapons out there.

        • The nice thing about shotguns is that you don’t have to be all that great of a shot to use them. That appeals to a lot of people who can’t shoot very well (like me). I can hit clay pigeons, but I have a lot harder time with accuracy with a pistol.

        • ” I can hit clay pigeons, but I have a lot harder time with accuracy with a pistol.”

          How much of that has to do with the spread of shot and how much is having that third and fourth point of contact (stock on shoulder and cheek on stock)?

          A shotgun is a niche weapon to me (taking the opposite stance of many survivalists). Sure, you can hunt both large and small game with the right loads, and even the same barrel; but for use against the “most dangerous game”, its use is rather limited. With buckshot and modified choke from and eighteen-inch barrel I follow the one-inch per yard rule. Shot will spread about one inch per yard from the muzzle. At typical across-the-room distances your buckshot will only spread about three inches. That’s plenty of room to miss; and outside, you may only get one or two pellets on target if your target is more than nine or ten yards away. Then, the spherical pellets lose energy (velocity) a lot faster than spitzer bullets, for instance.

          I am not saying the shotgun is ineffective. I am just saying you have to accept it warts and all.

        • For whatever reason, I find it 10 times easier to shoot with a pistol than a shotgun. Might be because of weight, but I’m used to the weight and kickback. Am I the only one that feels this turned into a “What weapon you would choose in a zombie apocalypse” discussion?

        • Yeah, having a stock and the extra stability is probably a major factor here, Bo. I guess I need to do more rifle shooting (I’ve done very, very little for whatever reason).

  4. Regarding the discussion question: I would have thought that zombies, being dead, didn’t hear at all like humans do. Maybe they have some kind of vibration detection in their dead bodies, or whatever turns them into a zombie takes over areas of the brain associated with hearing and sight, and causes them to track their prey down relentlessly for whatever reason.

    One thing for sure about zombies, at least in this webcomic, is that they roam about day or night randomly looking for anything that might be something their zombie brains want to feed on, again, for whatever reason.

    I would like to know more about why Dave’s zombies act the way they do, and what the cause of the infection is. I still stand by that sentiment, as there are inconsistencies in this webcomic that don’t seem to add up here and there. I don’t feel like being overly nitpicky about it, though, I’d just like to have a more solid representation of what Dave’s zombies are, and why they do certain things.

    • What sort of inconsistencies are you seeing, BrickVoid? I’d be happy to address them (odds are they’re mistakes on my part, but you never know).

      • I’ll write some up later if I can find time and examples I’m sure aren’t just me being nitpicky, but one thing comes to mind: When I was reading the archives the shootout with the prison escapees where one of the group becomes a zombie (Episode 346) because he died was a bit inconsistent in my mind, I had always thought until you did that “reveal’ that someone had to get bitten, in order to become a zombie. It kind of sucks that if one of these people in a group dies and reanimates as a zombie, that the group’s security as a whole is blown apart because you went and did that. Unless that was some kind of one-off and only likely to happen under very particular circumstances.

        I’m not sure this group know enough about killing their dead so they don’t come back as a zombie, yet! So giving them leeway and not making the come back as a zombie if you die a certainty would be one thing I’d recommend.

        • For that one, I think people (and the characters) naturally assume that a bit is required to zombify someone, but that was never made explicit.

  5. About zombie hearing, I generally agree with the precept that zombies are human in ability, but I think that the idea that they can be attracted from a long distance is reasonable. Since we know their brains are at least somewhat functional, because they can see and destroying the brain destroys the walker, some level of hearing seems natural.

    Now, if you heard a single shot in the woods, you might not have a clear idea of the exact direction you heard it from, but you’re going to know it was from “over there”, to the right or left, ahead or behind. It would take more than one shot at random to get more exact than that.

    But that’s enough. If every zombie within hearing distance turned in the general direction and started walking, it stands to reason that there’s a chance that one or more will stumble in the right direction and end up coming across the shooter. And when that happens, all the other zombies in the area will have been staggering in that general direction, so that they’ll be much closer when the living start defending themselves, so they’ll be nearer by and drawn in. Don’t forget that canonical zombies seem to exhibit some sort of pack mentality, which causes them to travel together at times, which could exacerbate all of this. Or it could cause them to veer off target and completely miss the living who fired the shot.

    Of course, the more remote a location this occurs in, the fewer walkers there will be to be drawn in, and thus the more likely that the walkers don’t stumble across the shooter, and the less likely that there are many to be attracted to the sound in the first place.

    • You know what Mike? This is a pretty damn good explanation of the phenomenon. Well done.

      • Something else to consider: during the Zombipocolypse, all the normal noises of “modern civilization” will be gone, thus making any loud noises like gunshots, even more attention-getting.

        • This is a very good point as well, and it’s funny you should mention it. I was trying to listen to a podcast this morning when I was getting gas, and I was just amazed at how loud civilization was. It was drowning out my show, and this was at 5:00 AM at an empty gas station.

    • That’s almost exactly what I was gonna say, Mike, so you just spared me the trouble of typing out such a long post.
      Thanks! I’d give you a cookie, but I eated all of them… Sorry.

      • Thanks, Darg, and thanks to you, too, Dave.

        I would have liked that cookie though…

  6. Holy crap it’s been awhile since i’ve commented on this website.. How is everyone doing??

    • I’m doing pretty well. Coming into my favorite part of the year. How about you?

  7. Since they have nothing much to think about I would imagine recognizing their basic senses is more acute than when they were human. Actually getting used and trusted without logic getting in the way. I would imagine they can smell fresh sweat or blood pretty darn good too.
    Seems to me Zombies have a serious case of sundowning – that’s something people with dementia and alzheimers have where their anxiety level increases greatly at dusk. It lasts all day and preoccupies them completely. Their brians may not be all mush. I’d investigate some form of brain calcification (as occurs in dementia) as part of infection symptoms. Maybe it is actually brittle and shatters thus the easy route of whacking them in the head.
    Maybe the cause is a cure for Alz. that goes horribly wrong?

    • This is a really interesting point too. We have a lot of filters in our brains that get rid of what we think of as noise. I wonder if the zombies have those too. Great thoughts, Many.

  8. Having the zombies hone in from miles away is probably just bad writing. It’s either another tool to put the protagonists at a severe disadvantage, the writer’s lack of understanding of sound and firearms, or both.

    I love it when writers really do their homework, and research how things work here in the real world, where you have to not only hear more than one shot to know the direction it’s coming from, and also have some experience to know what you’re listening for. Take supersonic loads, for instance. When a bullet breaks the sound barrier, that’s what you’re going to hear. If you’re not close enough to hear the report of the muzzle you’re not going to know where the bullet came from. All you’ll hear is the closest sonic crack.

    How does a horde of zombies track that?

    • Then do yourself a favor and don’t read any of the Walking Dead series of Woodbury books. The books themselves are pretty good, but the technical details (especially those regarding firearms) are so inaccurate that its hard to read. Im not one of the nitpicky types but when the protagonist “pulls back the hammer on the big Mosburg 20guage goose gun that can blow a target apart at 100yards” then I get a little nuts.

      • God, even I know better than that.

      • That’s one thing I really love about Larry Correia’s work. He does his due diligence with regard to research. He’s a bit of a Marty Stu; but I generally forgive that.

    • Supersonic ammo never even occurred to me Bo, once again betraying my ignorance in the firearms department.

      How far out of the muzzle does the shot break the sound barrier? I imagine it’d be quite a ways, which could lead the zeds away from the shooter.

      • The speed of sound is 1,126 feet per second at sea level in dry air at 68 degrees Fahrenheit (with apologies to our Commonwealth readers- I am trying to crunch the numbers). A 150-grain 7.62x51mm NATO is still going at 1812 feet per second at 500 yards; so that’s still supersonic at 500 yards. So at 500 yards folks downrange would hear the crack of the bullet but have no idea where the bullet is coming from, especially if it’s suppressed.

        So how are zombies going to find the shooter if they can’t track the sound of the bullet?

    • Bo, that’s a good point – a great one, really – but the mechanism I suggested above still applies. It doesn’t matter if they know exactly where the sound originated, just that they start moving towards what they heard. In an area with heavy infestation that will result in some contact between the dead and the living, because for every dead that hears the noise in the wrong direction because what it actually heard was the sonic crack there would be another who happened to have the shooter between it and the crack it heard.

      Good discussion, folks!

  9. Man you could parse this out indefinitely! I imagine that any kind of decay would affect the sense of hearing pretty dramatically. The ear (midddle and inner especially) are pretty delicate and involve a lot of moving parts. How well with the tiny bones and the fluid inside the cochlea hold up? Do zombies still produce earwax to push debris out of the ear? If not then all kinds of crud will quickly accumulate inside the ear canal or small bugs may decide to make a home there. This could go on for hours.

    The one think I think people tend to discount is how much quieter its going to be with the ambient noise gone. With no motor vehicles, air traffic, and vastly curtailed human activity then the world is going to get really quiet really fast. On any given day in the woods you can hear the report of even a small caliber pistol for well over a mile. Even further if its winter and there are no leaves on the trees. Like MIKE said, if every zombie within a mile radius starts heading in the genera direction of the shot then at least a few are going to find you.

    • Dude, if you were interested in turning this into a blog post, that’d be super cool.

      • A quick add-on here.

        On the subject of ambient noise, I wonder what it would be like outside of urban and suburban locations. The woods can be really loud, and when it isn’t, you notice. How would birds and other animals react to the zeds?

  10. Well I mean guns are usually REALLY load so. . . . I guess even zombies can hear it too???

    • Well it’s not so much a question of whether they could hear it. I have no doubt they could. The question is whether they could make a reasonably accurate guess as to the direction of the source, which I think would be really hard.

  11. I haven’t read over all of the other responses. I think Zombies that see and hear is like those zombies who run fast or shamble. It’s a gray area of failed logic or oversight on parts of the authors and in their quest to do a good zombie horror, the monster does what ever is needed to for the script.

    But I would think, with the body decaying, zombie vision and hearing is only as good in the beginning when the flesh is still fresh and not in advanced stages of decay. Much like previous discussions of fast and slow zombies.

  12. Since Zombies don’t exist (yes I said it) I think any writer can write anything they like as it is fiction – especially science fiction involves warping reality. Without imagination of fiction we wouldn’t invent much at all if we stuck to real world facts of what currently exists. But yes some writers tend to miss out on the obvious.
    Okay the ear wax leads me to the important part. Do they actually eat the humans they bite and if so the all important thing is – how do they poop? Does the intestinal system continue to function for a while after death and do they smell. Survivors dont seem to mention noticing a smell. I’d think it’d be pretty darn nasty stench.
    Less amibient noise is a good point. How are animals reacting to Zombies? I’m going to need a book but whoses to say that book has it right after all the world was once flat — really it was fact!