Why Do Cicadas Make Noise?

Bill Swank
First Published: | Updated: February 27, 2024

Cicadas make noise as part of their mating ritual; males produce loud, distinctive sounds to attract females. This noise is generated by a special organ called a tymbal. Dive into the science behind cicada songs and how these sounds play a crucial role in their lifecycle.

  • Cicadas produce noise primarily for mating rituals, with males emitting sounds to attract females and for territorial communication.
  • The sound is produced by a pair of ribbed membranes called tymbals, which cicadas contract and relax to create their characteristic chirps and clicks.
  • The loudness of cicada calls, which can reach up to 120 decibels, serves evolutionary advantages such as deterring rivals and reaching potential mates over large distances.
  • Cicadas typically make noise during their adult life stage, with the timing of their calls influenced by factors like temperature and time of day.
  • The synchronization of cicada noise during mass emergences, particularly in periodical species, enhances mating success and serves as a defense mechanism against predators.

Reasons Behind Cicadas Noise

Cicadas are known for their distinctive and often overwhelming noise, especially during the summer months. This noise-making is not just a random occurrence but a crucial part of their biology and behavior. The primary reason cicadas make noise is for mating rituals. Male cicadas produce sounds to attract females, with each species having its unique call. This auditory signaling is essential for reproduction and ensuring the continuation of their species.

Beyond mating, cicadas use their noise for territorial communication. The loud calls can deter other males from entering a particular area, thus reducing competition. Noise-making also serves as a survival mechanism. The collective noise of a group of cicadas can confuse predators, making it difficult for them to focus on a single target.

During mass emergences, which occur in some species every 13 or 17 years, synchronization of noise is vital. This phenomenon, where millions of cicadas emerge and sing at once, helps overwhelm predators to the point where there are simply too many cicadas to be eaten, ensuring that enough survive to mate and lay eggs.

How Do Cicadas Make Noise?

The mechanics of sound production in cicadas are fascinating and unique. Cicadas produce noise using a pair of ribbed membranes called tymbals, located on the sides of their abdominal base. When a cicada contracts its tymbal muscles, the membranes buckle inwards, creating a clicking sound. As these muscles relax, the tymbals pop back to their original position, producing another click. This rapid buckling and unbuckling sequence creates the characteristic cicada sound.

Cicadas can achieve remarkable loudness, with some species reaching up to 120 decibels, which is at the threshold of pain for human ears. The range of sounds they produce includes chirps and clicks, with the pattern and rhythm varying among species.

The cicada’s body and the hollow structure of their abdomens also play a role in amplifying the sound. Think of it as a natural resonance chamber, much like the body of a guitar, which increases the volume of the sound produced by the tymbals.

Why Are Cicadas So Loud?

The loudness of cicadas is not just an incidental feature; it has significant evolutionary advantages. Being loud helps male cicadas broadcast their presence over a large area, reaching more potential mates and increasing their chances of reproductive success. Loudness can also serve as a deterrent to rival males, establishing a sonic dominance over a territory.

Comparatively, cicadas are among the loudest of insects. Their ability to produce such high-decibel sounds is a result of evolutionary pressures that favored those who could be heard over greater distances. Interestingly, cicadas have a special structure in their ears that can close when they make noise, essentially protecting them from their own sounds.

When Do Cicadas Stop Making Noise?

Cicadas are not always vocal throughout their lifecycle. They are typically silent during their nymph stage, which occurs underground, and only begin to make noise after they emerge and molt into their adult form. The noise-making is primarily associated with the adult stage of their lifecycle when they are actively seeking to mate.

Several factors influence when cicadas make noise and when they become silent. Typically, they are most vocal during the hottest parts of the day, as the warmth enables them to be more active. However, some species are known to sing at dusk or at night. Temperature and weather conditions also play a role; cicadas are less likely to sing during cooler or rainy periods.

As cicadas progress through their life cycle stages, their noise-making patterns change. After mating, female cicadas will lay eggs and then die shortly after, while males often die after mating, bringing an end to their noise-making.

What Do Cicadas Sound Like?

Cicadas are known for their distinctive, cacophonous mating calls, which can resemble a high-pitched buzzing or whirring sound. Each species has a unique song, which male cicadas produce through vibrating membranes on their abdomens called tymbals. Sounds from cicadas can reach up to 100 decibels, equivalent to the noise level of a chainsaw or a motorcycle, making cicadas one of the loudest insects. The chorus of cicadas is often associated with the warm days of summer, as males synchronize their calls to attract females and deter other males, creating a constant and pervasive hum in affected habitats.

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