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Animals of all sizes form groups, as acting together can convey advantages over acting alone; thus, collective animal behavior has been identified as a promising template for designing engineered systems. However, models and observations have focused predominantly on characterizing the overall group morphology, and often focus on highly ordered groups such as bird flocks. We instead study a disorganized aggregation (an insect mating swarm), and compare its natural fluctuations with the group-level response to an external stimulus. We quantify the swarm’s frequency-dependent linear response and its spectrum of intrinsic fluctuations, and show that the ratio of these two quantities has a simple scaling with frequency. Our results provide a new way of comparing models of collective behavior with experimental data.

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Original version is available from the publisher, American Physical Society.