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April 18, 2017

When do cicadas sing?

Filed under: Behavior,Sounds — Dan @ 6:37 am

Most, if not all cicadas sing during the day, but what time of day they sing depends on the species and the weather. There are over 3,000 species of cicadas, and each has its own unique behavior.

Typically, cicadas do not sing at night, but there are exceptions. Most of the time when you hear an insect at night, it’s a cricket or katydid.

Most cicadas love the sun, so rain, and cloudy skies will decrease the likelihood they will sing. Temperature also effects whether or not they will sing. If it is too cold, or too hot cicadas won’t sing. Tolerance for temperature depends on the species.

Cicadas, depending on the species, will sing depending on the number and proximity of other cicadas in their area. Periodical cicadas, when there are enough in a given area, will synchronize their songs forming a chorus (a group effort to attract females).

When they sing during the day, under perfect conditions, depends on the species. Each species has its favorite time to sing, for example, in North America:

  • Neotibicen tibicen, also known as Morning Cicadas, typically sing before noon.
  • Neotibicen latifasciatus, aka Coastal Scissor Grinder Cicada, seem to sing throughout the day, taking breaks during the most brutal sunlight and temperatures.
  • Megatibicen auletes, also know as the Northern Dusk-Singing Cicada, sings for about a half hour around sunset.
  • Periodical cicadas, like Magicicada septendecim, typically sing between 10am and 5pm.

Recapping, when cicadas sing depends on:

  1. The species
  2. The amount of light (sun or artificial)
  3. The amount of cicadas in a given area
  4. Rain, clouds, and other “bad weather”
  5. The temperature

Cicadas can be surprising “rule breakers” so don’t be surprised to hear them when least expected.

More examples and references to come…

April 15, 2017

How do cicadas make sounds / noise

Filed under: Sounds — Dan @ 2:09 pm

Some people hear a cicada sing, and hear a beautiful song, while othes hear an irritating noise. But how do they create the sounds?

Magicicada septendecim tymbal
The ridged organ in this photo is a tymbal, the organ male cicadas use to create their songs.

Cicadas make sounds in quite a few aways: with tymbal organs, wing flicks, wing clicks, and stridulations.

Male cicadas sing using their tymbals

tymbal animation
Muscles tug at it rapidly to create sound vibrations.

Cicadas are best known for the songs the male cicadas sing. They sing using special organs called tymbals. Tymbals are membranes that vibrate very quickly when pulled by tiny muscles. This vibration creates the cicada’s song. Some types of cicadas have exposed tymbals, like Magicicada or Zammara. Some species have hidden tymbals, like Neotibicen, and flex their abdomen to open their tymbal covers to modulate their song.

Each type of song made with tymbals has a different purpose:

  • Alarm/distress calls: “don’t eat me! something is eating me!”
  • Pre-calls: warming up
  • Calls to attract mates and establish a territory
  • Courting calls: calls made once a mate is found.
  • Choruses: when males synchronize their calls to establish chorusing centers and attract females.

Wing flicks and stridulations

Females and males of some species flick their wings to produce a sound similar to the flick of a wall switch. Females use wing flicks to respond to male courting calls, in the case of Magicicada periodical cicadas. Some males of other species use a combination of tymbal song and wing flicks.

Some species of cicadas lack tymbals, like cicadas belonging to the genus Platypedia. They use their wings to make crackling or popping noises known as crepitation. Amphipsalta zelandica of New Zealand use wing-clicks to communicate.

Stridulations: Some cicadas, like Australia’s Green Grocer, possess raspe-like parts of their bodies which when stroked with part of a wing produces yet another type of cicada sound. This type of sound is called a stridulation.

Cyclochila australasiae stridulatory structures

Tettigarcta vibrate the earth

Lastly, some species like those belonging to the genus Tettigarcta vibrate the substrate (soil, plant matter, etc) they live in, rather than vibrating the air.

November 20, 2014

Magicicada cassini singing on hand

Filed under: Brood XIV,Magicicada,Roy Troutman,Sounds,Video — Tags: — Dan @ 8:48 am

From Roy Troutman: “I shot a video back in 1991 of a 17 year Magicicada cassini singing right on my hand.”

Magicicada cassini singing on hand from Roy Troutman.

November 19, 2014

Magicicada cassini calls, chorusing & responses to finger snaps

Filed under: Brood II,Magicicada,Periodical,Sounds,Video — Tags: — Dan @ 8:00 am

During the Brood II emergence in 2013, Elias Bonaros, Roy Troutman and I spent some time experimenting with coercing male Magicicada to call in response to finger snaps, which mimic the snap of a female cicada’s wings. This trick works fairly well with Magicicada, and can quickly be mastered once you work out the timing. Fingers, wall switches, and the zoom button on my Sony video camera do a good job at mimicking the snap of a females wings.

Magicicada cassini responding to fingersnaps

Magicicada cassini responding to fingersnaps.

I also recorded their calls in terms of decibels to see just how loud they could get. They can get very loud, but not as loud as a rock concert (see this db chart).

Magicicada cassini calling at 109db in Colonia NJ

Magicicada cassini calling at 109db in Colonia NJ.

Magicicada cassini chorusing center peaking at 85db

Magicicada cassini chorusing center peaking at 85db.

October 5, 2014

What is the loudest cicada?

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy,FAQs,Sounds — Dan @ 7:58 am

“What is the loudest cicada”?

A recent BBC article says researcher John Petti as found the answer: Brevisana brevis, an African cicada, reaches 106.7 decibels — with the loudest North American cicada, Megatibicen pronotalis walkeri at 105.9 decibels. Their sound was measured at a distance of 50cm (approximately 20 inches). Specifics about the equipment used and calibration of said equipment is not mentioned.

The article does introduce room for skepticism and debate, by noting that other species come very close (Diceroprocta apache), that the Tibicen pronotalis walkeri alarm call reaches 108.9 decibels, and a North American study that suggests decibels are correlated to body mass (and Brevisana brevis is not the most massive cicada).

According to the book Australian Cicadas by M.S. Moulds (New South Wales University Press, 1990) Cyclochila australasiae and Thopha saccata reach nearly 120db at close range. The “at close range” might be the key difference in measuring the sound, as Petti measured at a distance of 50cm.
Double Drummer (Thopha saccata)
Double Drummer (Thopha saccata), a cicada found in Australia, can reach 120db at close range. Photo by Kevin Lee.

Personally, I’ve observed Magicicada cassini choruses achieve between 85 & 86 decibels (link to video), and M. cassini responding to fingersnaps (mimics female wing flicks) at as high as 116 decibels (link to video) 35s in). The 116 decibels level was recorded with the insect standing on the microphone of my Extech 407730. Magicicada choruses have been documented to reach 100 decibels

Magicicada chorus at around 80db:

Some people want to know how loud a cicada can get just because it is a cool fact to know, but others are concerned about noise-induced hearing loss (about which, I am not an expert). Both decibels and prolonged exposure seem to matter. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders page on Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, prolonged exposure to sounds over 85db can cause hearing loss (just above the chorus of a Magicicada). The WebMD harmful noise levels page has chainsaws and leaf blowers in the range of the loudest cicadas. Lessons learned: 1) Make sure you wear hearing protection if you plan on blowing leaves, or searching for the loudest cicada, and 2) Do not complain about the cicadas in your yard — complain about your neighbors and their leaf blowers.

There are over 3500 types of cicadas in the world, and for now Brevisana brevisis the king of the insect noisemakers.

More information on Petti’s study can be found here.

Male cicadas, in case you were wondering, use their opercula (flaps on their abdomen) to cover their tympana (the cicadas hearing organs) when they sing, so they don’t damage their own hearing. Cicadas — male and female — listen with their tympana.

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