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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 affects 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 others 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 ways: 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: Africa (Continent),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 Megatibicen 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.

April 20, 2014

Song of a Dundubia sp. cicada recorded by Santisuk Vibul

Filed under: Santisuk Vibul,Sounds,Thailand — Dan @ 8:50 am

Here’s the song of a cicada belonging to the Dundubia genus recorded by Santisuk Vibul in Bangkok, Thailand.

October 12, 2013

A third way cicadas make sounds

Filed under: Australia,Cicada Anatomy,Cyclochila,Sounds,Video — Dan @ 8:06 am

Cicadas are well known for the songs male cicadas make with their their tymbals, which are drum-like organs found in their abdomens.

Some female cicadas will also flick their wings to get the males attention. Watch this video where a male Magicicada is convinced that the snapping of fingers is a wing flick. Note: Magicicada males will also flick their wings once they become infected with the Massospora cicadina fungus (which removes their sex organs).

There is a third way some cicadas can make sounds. This method of creating a sound is unique to the Australian species Cyclochila australasiae (aka the Green Grocer and Masked Devil). These cicadas have stridulatory ridges on their pronotal collars (the collar shaped structure at the back of their head), and a stridulatory scraper on their fore wing.

From M. S. MOULDS, 2012, A review of the genera of Australian cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadoidea). Magnolia Press Auckland, New Zealand. p84:

Cyclochila is unique among the Cicadoidea in possessing a stridulatory file on the underside of the lateral angles of the pronotal collar that interacts with a scraper on the fore wing base (Fig. 132). Rubbed together these produce low audible sound in hand-held specimens (K. Hill, pers. comm.), the purpose of which is for sexual com- munication at close quarters (J. Kentwell and B. Fryz, pers. comm.)

Here is a photo of these structures:

Cyclochila australasiae stridulatory structures

The location of these structures is right about where the blue pin is in this photo:
Collar

Update:

Tim McNary of the Bibliography of the Cicadoidea website, let us know that Clidophleps cicadas are also able to create should using a stridulatory structure. Clidophleps is a genus of cicada that can be found in California, Nevada, Arizona, and I assume adjacent parts of Mexico. Clidophleps differs from Cyclochila in that the stridulatory structure is on its mesonotum, and not its pronotal collar.

Photo courtesy of Tim McNary:
stridatory file

June 8, 2013

Brood II Cicada Video from 2013

Enjoy these videos of the Brood II Magicicada emergence from 2013.

Magicicada septendecim ovipositing

Magicicada septendecim ovipositing.

Periodical Cicadas in Merrill Park in Colonia NJ

Periodical Cicadas in Merrill Park in Colonia NJ.

Either a Magicicada cassini or septendecula

Either a Magicicada cassini or septendecula.

A calling Magicicada septendecim

A calling Magicicada septendecim.

June 6, 2013

How loud/noisy (in decibels) do periodical cicadas get?

Last Thursday Roy Troutman, Elias Bonaros and I traveled around central New Jersey, looking for cicadas. They were not hard to find. Elias found a location in Colonia that had a particularly loud Magicicada cassini chorusing center. Using my camera and Extech 407730 40-to-130-Decibel Digital Sound Level Meter, I recorded the calls of these cicadas and how loud they can get. The quality of the video isn’t the best because it’s a camera, not a video camera, but it is good enough.

Magicicada cassini chorusing center peaking at 85db (on Vimeo):

Magicicada cassini chorusing center peaking at 85db from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

Elias and Roy used finger snaps, mimicking the wing snaps of female cicadas, to trick the males into singing:

Magicicada cassini responding to fingersnaps (on Vimeo):

Magicicada cassini responding to fingersnaps from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

We placed the M. cassini directly on the microphone and got calls as high as 109 decibels, in this video:

Magicicada cassini calling at 109db in Colonia NJ from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

There were a few M. septendecim in the area as well. A Magicicada septendecim goes from a Court II to Court III call as soon as it crawls on the decibel meter, in this video.

Magicicada septendecim court 3 from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

The cicada choruses in Central New Jersey have no doubt gotten louder since last week. Hopefully, on Sunday I’ll get back out to Central Jersey or Staten Island and make some recordings.

November 8, 2012

Brazil Cicada Identification Challenge, Part 1

Filed under: Brazil,Identify,Sounds,Video — Dan @ 9:19 pm

Jairo of Cigarras do Brasil – Brazilian Cicadas asked for our help to identify some unknown cicada species from Brazil. The following videos feature cicada song belonging to the cicadas we want to identify. We are hoping folks in the cicada research community can help.

Note: All of these cicadas were photographed at Paraibuna, São Paulo. This town is close to the Paraíba Valley (Vale do Paraíba), and to São José dos Campos and Caçapava.

The first cicada Unknown Cicada Song from Brazil sounds like a siren from a science fiction movie:

The second video Unknown cicada song (along with Q. gigas) – Need identification features a Quesada gigas and another cicada. It’s the other cicada we need to identify.

As a reference, here is the song of the Quesada gigas:

View all cicada identification challenges.

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