Summer Serenade: The Cicada Song


Courtesy of Reuters

Photo courtesy of Reuters.

Just a few months ago, there was a lot of noise about the emerging Brood II Cicadas, the one that emerges every 17 years.  I was thrilled with the news because I happen to love Cicadas — maybe not the insect, but the sound!  Yes, the sound — because nothing screams summer like the shrilly screech of Cicadas.

And then came the end of the news reports: Long Island was not included.  Apparently, this brood’s parents decided 17 years ago that Long Island was no place to spend their summer season.

This doesn’t mean that Long Island is suffering from Cicada silence.  We have our share of these noisy buggers — it’s just that, well — it’s like that old saying: Always a brood maid, never a brood.

In celebration of this beautiful noise, I’m revisiting a post that nicely summed up my cicada love.

Cicada’s: The Sound of Summer

It’s positively steamy outside.  I’m watching the sprinkler water the zinnias on the far side of the pool, and completely drowning out the sound of running water is the non-stop, rapid-fire droning chirps of the Cicadas.  Some might consider the sound a nuisance or torture, but I find the chirping can trigger memories and spark my imagination.

As a kid, we always incorrectly referred to these buzzers as locusts — but no matter what we called them, no sound reminds me more of the dog days of summer than the Cicada’s song.  It’s like a sizzling sound effect, perfectly accentuating the sun’s rays scorching the garden.  A never-ending sizzle, that forces me to stand as still as the hot, humid air.  As one chorus whines to an end, another starts up, and so on and so on.

I remember being captivated each time we found the shell of a Cicada’s discarded skin. Looking like a miniature Alien creature, they would be hooked under chairs, patio tables, plants, branches — anywhere. In fact, they attached so easily to anything that they were perfect for scaring your sister or aunt into thinking an enormous bug was crawling on their shirt.

The chirps are actually a conversation of sorts, with topics ranging from danger warnings to mating calls.  While I have not had the opportunity to translate the various pitches and range in volume, they do make me imagine myself in a Tennessee William’s drama, like Cat On A Hot Tin Roof — the kind of setting where all you do is fan yourself while sitting on the veranda, drinking an icy lemonade, listening to Big Daddy go on and on — only to be upstaged by the maddening chirps.

I think what impresses me about Cicadas is that where I live, most insects are normal sized — nothing too prehistoric.  Of course there are June Bugs (not a fan of those) and Praying Mantis (love them!), but the Cicada looks like it’s pumped up on steroids.  My father caught one once and carefully tied a string to it.  It was like a toy helicopter circling about him — just a guy taking his Cicada out for a spin.  (The Cicada was released, unharmed, but probably a little dizzy.)

Apparently, my father and I are not the only ones who are fond of Cicadas.  There is a website, Cicada Mania, devoted to all-things Cicada, the ancient Chinese culture regarded the insect as a symbol of rebirth, and other cultures consider them a delicacy.  As for me, I’ll take my Cicadas the Tennessee Williams way: on the porch with an ice-cold lemonade — none of those no-neck monsters — just me and Maggie and Brick and that endless song.

19 thoughts on “Summer Serenade: The Cicada Song

  1. I too like seeing them. They are prehistoric looking and fun to photograph. I did a post on them before they arrived, so I am glad you posted on them after they hatched. It was supposed to be a big year for them. I have not noticed it here although they were to be mainly along the East coast. They are noisy to me, but that is OK. The damage we see will be telling. The adults don’t eat the leaves, but the offspring do. I always wondered on the excessive chirping. I always thought it was just for mating, but alerting for danger makes sense too. Nice post with lots of interesting info, Kevin.

    • Hi Donna. Prehistoric is a great word for them. I was a little — okay, a lot — sad that Long Island was not part of the brood zone. Still, I’m glad to hear the cicadas that are around. Enjoy the day!

  2. I remember searching for Cicada shells when I was a kid living in the Florida Panhandle. My brother and I would collect as many as we could in a shoe box. Of course, my mother was a party-pooper and made us dispose of them before we were allowed back in the house.

    Oh, those were the days….

    • Oh that Mom! 🙂 I still get a rush when I find a shell attached somewhere. It brings back a flood of memories. Thanks for sharing some of your own memories, Peggy.

  3. I thought you were going to imagine Cat On A Hot Tin Roof with all the characters as Cicadas. I remember being afraid of this harmless bug as a small child, but eventually I grew to like their sound as part of the summer sound track.

    • Hey Kat. It’s comforting to know that different regions have their own summer chorus. In addition to cicadas, we also have crickets — but no frogs.

  4. This is fascinating, Kevin. Of course I was tuned in to all the news stories, but I knew we weren’t included in the symphony. Outside of crickets, we have nothing that gives an evening symphony. And our insects are tiny compared to what I have seen in traveling across the U.S. I feel a little left out. I like insects, but then maybe that’s because we don’t have any prehistoric-looking ones! 🙂

    • Hi Debra. There’s nothing wrong with a cricket symphony. Besides, you do have some massive, prehistoric trees in your part of the country. 🙂

  5. Wow. While I was visiting USA, in knoxville , Tennessee , I used to hear the calling of insects in the evenings and nights. It used to be a great chorus,which I enjoyed sitting on the porch . Was that Cicada group Symphony? I wonder.

    Being from India, this was a great experience to me.

    • So many creatures come to life at night. You probably heard crickets — I think cicadas are more active during the heat of the day. Hope all is well in your part of the world!

  6. I too associate cicada-song with summer. I recall the SHOCK I experience the first summer I lived in Japan, where the cicadas are so loud it sounds like … I dunno … like a refrigerator in its final death throes!

  7. Pingback: If You Can’t Stand The Heat. . . | Nitty Gritty Dirt Man

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