The Summertime Song: Cicadas

One of my favorite things in the whole world is a summer morning. The cool of night still remains and the morning dew still rests on the lawn, making the webs of grass spiders look like foggy little nets. Then there is the sound: winding up, getting louder and louder until it’s the only thing you can hear, then it stops. All is still. Then it starts up again: winding up, louder and louder until it’s the only thing to hear. Over and over. Soon more join in and then suddenly that’s all there is like an alien chorus; the steady throbbing, screeching summertime songs of the cicada. It’s a sound that is irritating to some, but to me it’s the song of summer, a song that reminds me of the freedoms of childhood. Of summer vacation and of mystery. I always wondered why they needed to make this astonishingly loud noise.

Turns out, it’s how they boys find a girlfriend. Somehow, the female cicadas find something appealing in these songs, and to the boy who sings the loudest they give their eggs and perhaps their hearts.

Cicadas are interesting and somewhat mysterious creatures. They hatch from eggs laid by their mothers in the treetops. Then as babies they fall to the ground where they burrow into soil to live amongst and feed on the roots of trees. There they stay until they are ready to emerge and become adults. Under the cover of the night, they climb from their subterranean lairs and begin to climb back to the treetops where they were born. Along the way something interesting happens… they change. Cicadas in the ground look quite different from the ones in trees. As nymphs, they are strange, wingless creatures with large front legs that they use for digging.

Once they’ve climbed to a safe spot, their back splits open and an adult cicada climbs out and spreads the large, papery wings that have been forming under its exoskeleton which it leaves behind for us to find later in the day. As a kid I can remember the mystery of finding these strange empty bodies and then hearing the haunting songs of creatures that I couldn’t see, hiding in the treetops just out of my reach. Occasionally, one of these creatures would fall to Earth, and we’d examine it as if it was indeed some kind of alien being.

I’m sure you’ve heard their songs; this time of year they are hard to miss, you can hear them every morning and then again at dusk, but did you know that it was a bug’s love song? Have you ever found a cicada shell on a tree, or collected them even? I used to have some many, lined up on my back porch.

This is the abandoned casing, shell, or exoskeleton of a cicada. The insect was on a tree when it molted.

Go outside and see if you can find some, when you do admire its beauty and consider it a gift from one of the world’s greatest singers.

Learn more about cicadas, their life cycle, and their songs on our YouTube Channel here!


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