Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chic Chic Cicadas...

The sound fills the air on hot summer nights, like a deep breath, and relaxed sigh. Chic, chic, chic--it grows louder, then stops, louder, then stops. It's the sound of the cicada, a sound I know well as I've listened to it every summer since I was a child.

Cicadas are fascinating creatures, and I feel a little guilty about the way I have spoken of them in the past. I have frequently photographed cicadas in their exoskeleton stage (see photos) and entered them in my personal Facebook "Ugly Bug Contest." Well, the exoskeleton of the Cicada may be a bit creepy, I suppose, but they are all creations of God, and deserve my respect.

In 1933, Stanley Bromley wrote that East Central Texas, where we live, is "a veritable cicada paradise. I have never visited a region where so many species are as abundant." And if you walk around outside in the dark--which is not advisable, considering the millions of other strange creatures that abound in East Central Texas--you will hear this abundance of cicadas, like a choir of bugs filling the air with their, um, sweet, angelic bug calls! (I know, I know, but I said I was going to try to speak nicely about them now!)

Actually, Bromley describes the singing of cicadas more accurately when he says, "they may be silent for long intervals, when suddenly the whole population will burst into song simultaneously, resulting in an ear-splitting din which subsides as suddenly as it arose."

Cicadas are rather large insects that look like flies with very long wings. They lay their eggs in cracks in tree or tree roots. Nymphs crawl underground and feed on roots, but do no perceptible damage to plants. They can stay underground for years as their hard shells develop, then eventually, they crack out of their shells and the winged creatures emerge in a similar fashion to dragonflies. It is common for millions of cicadas to hatch at once, in cycles, like locust. There are 2500 different types of cicadas around the world--the world can be a very noisy place at times!

The male cicadas are the loud noisemakers. They have what are called "tymbals" at the base of the abdomen, like ribs, which they contract. The sound is created as the tymbals move inward, and when they relax, and the tymbals go back to their original position, a second sound is created. The body of the male is fairly hollow, which make the sound resonant. To me, it sounds as if the earth itself is breathing when cicadas sing.

I have seen the fully-grown cicadas flit about the yard, but I've only been able to photograph their exoskeletons, so photographing a winged cicada is now my personal goal...but I will display my photos of the exoskeletons to the right, and I cannot promise to exclude them from my ugly bug contests!

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