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April 15, 2017

Which cicada is the loudest?

Filed under: Sounds — Dan @ 1:52 pm

“What is the loudest cicada” or “what is the loudest insect”, you might ask.

Double Drummer (Thopha saccata)
Double Drummer (Thopha saccata), a cicada found in Australia, can reach 120db at close range. Photo by Kevin Lee.

  • The “official” loudest cicada in the world is the Brevisana brevis, a cicada found in Africa. At a distance of 50cm (~20″) B. brevis reaches 106.7 decibels. See the BBC article.
  • Australian species of cicadas, like the Double Drummer (Thopa saccata) are said to exceed 120 deafening decibels at close range.
  • According to the University of Florida Book of Insect Records, the Neotibicen pronotalis [aka walkeri] is the loudest cicada in North America, and can achieve 108.9 decibels.
  • 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 db (link to video) 35s in). The 116db level was recorded with the insect standing on the microphone of my Extech 407730. Magicicada choruses have been documented to reach 100 dB.

People use a variety of criteria to judge the loudness of cicadas. Brevisana brevis is the current official record holder. We should use the distance, equipment, calibrations and weather conditions used for that measurement for all cicadas.

One of the reasons why people want to know how loud cicadas can get is fear of hearing loss. Looking at the CDC website, a Magicicada chorus falls in the range of a noisy cafeteria — which doesn’t appear to be harmful in the short term. A cicada applied directly to the ear (do not do that) gets in the range of a loud rock concert and ambulance siren, which will cause hearing damage. Again, do not put cicadas in or around your ears.

Yes. Male cicadas 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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