Tag Archives: sound production in cicadas

Right in time for Father's Day, we heard our first cicada singing yesterday.

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It seems like the local Arizona species of cicadas always start singing the third week of June, or around Father's Day. They are highly predictable.

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Of course our annual cicadas aren't as wondrous as the red-eyed periodical cicadas.

Snodgrass_Magicicada_septendecim(Public domain illustration by Snodgrass from Wikimedia).

You have probably heard about periodical cicadas. The adults emerge in large groups after long period underground. Some come out every 13 years. Others spend a whopping 17 years underground.

 

Magicicada_septendecim(Public domain photograph of 17-year cicadas from Wikimedia).

How easy is it to predict when a given insect will emerge or arrive in a certain area? The annual emergence or migrations of insects may depend on weather factors, such as temperature, winds, rains, etc. Those in turn change the availability and timing of host plants, which influence insect development. Insect emergence is often unpredictable, although scientists have created complex mathematical models to track certain pest species.

Cicadas, on the other hand, are protected underground. They also feed on fairly stable hosts, namely trees. Perhaps it is a combination of those factors that allow cicadas to be so predictable relative to other insects.

By the way, some broods of the periodical cicada are emerging in 2015, mainly along the Mississippi River basin area. Check Magicicada.org for more details and links to citizen science projects.

Are the cicadas singing where you live? Have you ever seen an emergence of the periodical cicada?

Any idea what this alien-looking creature is?

cicada

Cicadas are large insects with bulging eyes. This one is whitish because it has a fungal disease.

cicada mouthpart

Father’s Day marks the beginning of the cicada season here in the Sonoran Desert. The emergence of these noisy insects predicts the beginning of a change in the weather, with higher humidity and the onset of the violent rains called monsoons. Unlike the spectacular periodical cicadas, our cicadas emerge every year. They sing on and off for a month or so.

Ever wondered how the cicadas produce their loud buzz? On the sides of the male cicadas (although some females have them, too) are two thin areas called tymbals. When muscles inside pull on the tymbals, they collapse causing a click. When the muscles release, the tymbal clicks again as it snaps back.

The video of the tymbal moving in slow motion at Discovery Channel's Time Warp: Cicada Sounds is very cool.  The tymbal is the white area that is moving in and out. Too bad there isn't any sound to go with it.  Note: the short advertisement at the beginning of this video may not be appropriate for young children.

According to the schedule, the entire Time Warp episode with the cicada footage (it is called Stuntmen) is being aired on the Discovery Channel on Monday June 21 at 9:00 am. It is rated TV-PG. It might be a fun way to start summer.