I’m talking about cicadas and crickets, and they’ve been particularly noisy this summer. We’ve enjoyed a long hot one, and when that happens cicadas especially seem to go at it hammer and tongs. And it’s the males that make all that racket.
Depending on your temperament, the cicada’s call is also known as a buzz, (cicada means buzz in Latin), the harbinger of summer or a chorus if there’s more than one making the din.
The sound of the cicada is really a form of male chest beating (or abdomen beating in this case), to find a suitable mate and it’s the tymbals, or ribbed membranes, at the base of the abdomen that produce the sound when the muscles are relaxed and contracted.
The ‘tune’ hopefully attracts the female of their dreams, and after lying dormant underground for so long, dreaming is something they’ve had plenty of time to do. And possibly, those tight abs would be an attraction too.
Some larger species of cicada – luckily we don’t have them here – produce a racket of over 120 decibels, all by themselves! That’s an output known to cause pain to the human ear.
Most cicadas sing during the day, their call also designed to repel predator birds. One cicada species sings at dusk, when their would-be predators are tucking themselves in for a good night’s sleep. Now here’s a thought – perhaps the birds became predators because they couldn’t stand listening to those tymbals crashing all summer long.
But it’s the midnight ravers that really irk me and it seems we’ve had a crowd of insomniac cicadas or crickets camped outside our bedroom window for weeks.
Every summer evening my quandary has been whether to leave the bedroom windows open and let the warm breeze waft through (together with the deafening sound of the insect world’s party goers), or shut the windows, dissolve in the humidity and only partially hear the din.
Feeling mean bleating on about the little critters, I decided to do some research – take a look beneath the surface, so to speak – and find out what makes these pesky little things tick, or click.
The more I delved, the more I wondered what God was thinking when she made the cicada. Although there are thousands of varieties around the world, with lifecycles ranging from 3 to 17 years, mostly they spend just about all their lives underground, coming up for air, light and a quick summer fling of just a few weeks before it’s all over. Not much of a life really.
The New Zealand cicada, from the genus kikihia, has around 28 species, each with its own distinctive call. They generally live underground for 2 to 5 years, which is an ideal career choice for an agoraphobic. Then, when they do emerge into the light, the pressure is really on. Not only do they have to adjust to their new light-filled open-plan home, they have to put on the performance of their lives.
After their fling, the female lays her eggs, and it’s pretty much the end of the road for both mum and dad, as they expire in the course of duty. Like a young thug who is a victim of circumstance, it’s easy to understand cicadas now I’ve looked into their backgrounds. It has reminded me that life is a many splendoured, and cruel thing, too.
But I need to tell you I’m not totally heartless. All summer I’ve rescued distressed cicadas – if I’ve got to them in time – after they’ve flown unwittingly into our swimming pool. (I think that makes me a cic-aider?).