What Do Cicadas Sound Like?

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

Cicadas produce a high-pitched, buzzing or clicking sound that can be deafening in large groups. The sound varies among species, ranging from a singular, continuous drone to a pulsating chorus. Explore the diverse acoustic landscape created by cicadas and the meaning behind these sounds.

  • Cicadas produce a distinctive, high-pitched buzzing or clicking sound, which is particularly intense during the warmer months and is used primarily for mate attraction.
  • Male cicadas create their unique noise using a pair of membranes called tymbals, which they rapidly buckle and unbuckle to produce the buzzing sound.
  • While cicadas are mostly active during the day, some species can make noise at night, influenced by light sources or to avoid predators.
  • Cicadas have auditory organs called tympana, similar to ears, which allow them to hear the calls of other cicadas, aiding in communication and mating.
  • The timing of cicada noise is usually during the late spring and summer months, with peak activity during the heat of the day; periodical cicadas emerge every 13 or 17 years and are known for their loud collective noise.

What Does a Cicada Sound Like?

Cicadas are known for their distinctive, buzzing symphonies that echo through the trees in the warmer months. Their sound is often described as a high-pitched, rhythmic drone that can be loud enough to rival the decibels produced by a motorcycle. This noise is not a singular tone but rather a chorus of calls that can vary in intensity and frequency. Some species produce a buzzing or clicking sound, while others may have a more musical trill.

To truly understand the cicada’s song, listening to real-life sound examples can be illuminating. Here’s an audio clip that captures the essence of a cicada’s call:

Why Do Cicadas Make Noise?

Cicadas make noise primarily for mate attraction. The males are the musicians of the species, and their calls serve as love songs to entice female cicadas. Each species has its unique sound, which helps females identify suitable mates of the same species.

The mechanics behind their distinctive noise is fascinating. Cicadas produce sound using a pair of membranes called tymbals, located on the sides of their abdominal base. When a cicada contracts the muscles attached to the tymbals, these membranes buckle inwards, creating a clicking sound. As the muscles relax, the tymbals snap back to their original position, producing another click. This rapid buckling and unbuckling happen in quick succession, resulting in the buzzing sound characteristic of cicadas.

Cicada Noise at Night

While cicadas are primarily active during the day, some species are known to make noise at night, especially during the peak of their mating season. The nighttime sounds of cicadas tend to be less intense than their daytime activity but can still be quite noticeable. The nocturnal chorus is often part of the species’ strategy to avoid predators or to take advantage of cooler evening temperatures for mating activities.

Behavioral patterns of cicadas include a period of rest at night, but disturbances or an abundance of light, such as street lamps or moonlight, can trigger them to resume their calling.

What Are the Bugs That Make Noise at Night?

Cicadas are not the only insects that create the nighttime acoustic landscape. Many other nocturnal insects, such as crickets and katydids, also contribute to the sounds of the night. Unlike cicadas, which have a more constant and droning sound, crickets produce a chirping noise by rubbing their wings together, a process known as stridulation. Katydids also use stridulation to create a sound that is more musical and variable in pitch.

Locusts, which are sometimes confused with cicadas, can also make noise but usually do so during the day. Their sound is typically produced by their wings during flight rather than by specialized structures like the tymbals of cicadas.

Each insect’s sound has distinct identifying features, such as rhythm, pitch, and pattern, which can help differentiate one from another in the nocturnal soundscape.

Can Cicadas Hear?

Cicadas are not only proficient at making noise, but they are also equipped to hear it. Cicadas possess a pair of organs called tympana, which function similarly to ears. These auditory organs are located on the abdomen and are covered by a protective membrane. Cicadas use their tympana to listen for the calls of other cicadas, ensuring they can find one another for mating purposes.

The hearing mechanism in cicadas allows them to detect and respond to the frequency and intensity of sound waves. This feedback loop between making noise and perceiving it is crucial for communication within their species. It also influences their behavior, as they can detect the presence of potential mates as well as predators.

When Do Cicadas Make Noise?

Cicadas are most vocal during the heat of the day, from late morning until the late afternoon, when the temperature is warm enough to facilitate their metabolic processes. However, the timing of their noise-making can vary based on species and the specific environmental conditions.

In terms of seasonal activity, cicadas are typically heard during the late spring and summer months. Some species emerge every year, while others, known as periodical cicadas, emerge in large numbers every 13 or 17 years. These periodical cicadas are especially notable for the loud collective noise they produce during their brief adult life span.

The environmental conditions that contribute to cicada noise-making include temperature, humidity, and the presence of other cicadas. They are most prolific in their sound production during the warmest parts of the day and during the peak of their mating season, which is why their distinctive chorus becomes a defining sound of summer in many regions.

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