There is, so far as I know, but one creature that is excited, quite literally vibrating, over these long stretches of 100+ degree days.
We hear him, and legions of his friends, singing from the leafy tops of our trees beginning around 9:30 or 10 in the morning and ceasing only after darkness has fallen. In the hottest part of the day, their songs reach such a fever pitch that you can hear them, even indoors, with the windows and doors shut, the air conditioner and ceiling fans running at full blast. Nothing can drown out the dog day cry of the cicada.
Have a listen:
Some days, this song sounds to me like lemonade and grandmothers fanning themselves on porches, barefooted children running through sprinklers and fiddle music.
On others, on those days when the heat has drained my spirit, it sounds like a funereal dirge.
The cicadas don't seem to be bothered much by the moods of their listeners though, they sing on.
So, as their music is the anthem of our summer days, and because we have a rapidly growing collection of their shed skins, we thought we'd better find out more about these rather vocal critters.
Here's what we've learned:
Cicadas are fairly large insects with big eyes that are set rather far apart. They come in an astonishing array - 2,500 or so known species.
They are born from eggs that a female has deposited in a small cut that she makes on a twig. They burrow into the ground and live the bulk of their lives there feeding on root juices.
Finally, they emerge from the ground, shed their skins and fly to the tree tops to sing and mate. Some species spend only a year underground, others as many 17 years.
They are not, as is commonly thought, locusts. That's a whole 'nuther beast.
It is the male cicadas that make all the noise. I tell my boys that they are singing love songs to the ladies. This elicits much eye rolling. My middle son said during a particularly loud performance, " Man, they really, really, REALLY want to get those girls attention, don't they? Can the girls not hear very well, or what?"
Here's an excerpt straight from wikipedia about the interesting way in which arduous young cicadas make their intentions known,
"Male cicadas have loud noisemakers called "timbals" on the sides of the abdominal base. Their "singing" is not the stridulation (where two structures are rubbed against one another) of many other familiar sound-producing insects like crickets: the timbals are regions of the exoskeleton that are modified to form a complex membrane with thin, membranous portions and thickened "ribs". Contracting the internal timbal muscles produces a clicking sound as the timbals buckle inwards. As these muscles relax, the timbals return to their original position producing another click. The interior of the male abdomen is substantially hollow to amplify the resonance of the sound. A cicada rapidly vibrates these membranes, and enlarged chambers derived from the tracheae make its body serve as a resonance chamber, greatly amplifying the sound. They modulate their noise by wiggling their abdomens toward and away from the tree that they are on. Additionally, each species has its own distinctive song"
Interestingly, the cicadas have made their way into cultural iconology. Throughout the ages, the cicada has been seen as a symbol of youthful short-sightedness. Other animals are diligently making preparations for the winter while the cicada is lazing the day away singing songs to his lover. Ah, young love.
Turns out cicadas are also seen as delicacies to some Asian and Latin American palates.
We have yet to see one actually IN his skin though... so I'm not sure how those chefs manage to get them from leafy heights to chilled plates. I guess that's a question for further research. (You can see a really neat photo of one here)
We'd also like to know if it is a particular temperature that triggers their singing to begin and then to end. So if you need us, we'll be out back with our clocks and thermometers waiting for the music to start.
Nature— the sublime, the harsh, and the beautiful— offers something that the street or gated community or computer game cannot. Nature presents the young with something so much greater than they are; it offers an environment where they can easily contemplate infinity and eternity. —Richard Louv