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A Natural View: Strange Noises Coming from the Fields Terry Sprague


love the unmistakable buzzing sound of the cicada in late summer. It’s right up there with crickets and katydids. On the farm, the cicadas always called during hot August days when we were drawing in the last of the hay from those back fields next to the woods where cooling breezes never blew. My parents called them locusts, and claimed that they were calling for hot, dry weather. Looking back, I think their calling had little to do with a prediction of any kind, except I always heard them when the weather was hot and dry. The noise was deafening, but I never grew tired of listening to them, and still look forward to their loud shrill noise. It always reminds me of electricity buzzing on a power line. Only the males can make this shrill sound, vibrating two ribbed membranes on their thorax called tymbals.

The periodical cicada has a very bizarre life history, spending 17 years underground as a nymph, emerging to mate, then dying within the month, if they don’t get eaten by something first. It seems hardly worth it to come out of the ground. In the adult stage, periodical cicadas look like oversized house flies, and we see and hear them for just that brief period when the males are busy making all that noise to attract a mate. The female deposits her eggs in the branches of shrubs and trees. Upon hatching, the little nymphs fall to the ground and they immediately burrow underground where they will spend the next 17 years of their exciting life seeking out tree roots from which they will obtain their nourishment. Internal clocks that have been pre-programmed to alarm after 17 years, signal the nymphs to head for daylight once the soil temperature reaches about 18 degrees Celsius. The newly emerged nymphs climb a tree where they shed their nymphal skin and metamorphosize as adults to start their loud “singing” and begin the cycle again. Then, unceremoniously, they die.

Just how loud are these musical insects? From a distance of only 60 feet, we are looking at approximately 80 decibels - about the same as listening to a jackhammer. The cicada is one of the loudest insects to be found According to one anywhere in the world. A chorus of them can reach 115 source, the cicada decibels! qualifies as one of the loudest insects to be found anywhere in the world. A chorus of them can reach 115 Annual cicadas are the North American decibels. That’s louder than a rock cicada species that we hear every concert and comparable to the noise summer in our region. The lifecycle of from a chainsaw (humans start to the so-called annual cicada typically experience pain from sound at the 110- to spans 2 to 5 years; they are “annual” only 120-decibel level). in the sense that members of the species reappear annually. The name is used to distinguish them from periodical cicada species, which occur only in Eastern North America, are developmentally synchronized, and appear in great swarms every 13 or 17 years. According to the Smithsonian Natural Museum of History, there are about 3,000 known species of cicada worldwide.

The loud, shrill song of the cicada reminds some of electricity buzzing on a power line. Photo by Dave Bell.

familiar grinding “katy-did” sound. Katydids are related to the Long-horned Grasshoppers of the West which caused such extensive damage during the infamous cricket plague of 1948 when swarms of them descended upon fields of the religious refugees in Utah. At the critical moment, droves of gulls arrived, devoured the pest, and saved the new settlement. After the plague, the grasshoppers became known locally as Mormon Crickets and their enormous bands are still considered a concern in the West. Here, however, the katydid relative is quite harmless as there are so few of them. Our more familiar Short-horned Grasshopper is the one I remember so well from my farming days some 40 years ago. Combining grain was always an experience as hundreds of these grasshoppers would leap away from the machinery, landing on my face and arms, or lining up like so many soldiers on the framework of the machinery. Those that failed to heed the advancing combine

There is another insect which makes a peculiar and somewhat mysterious sound too, but it is more subtle. It is the katydid, and I found one last week on our sundeck. Musical instruments, similar to those of the cicada, called “organs of stridulation” have evolved on the wing covers of this insect. There is a file on one wing and a scraper on the other and when rasped together, produces the

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were processed with the crop and ended up in the grain bin. This large notorious family includes the non-migratory grasshoppers, most of which live and die in the field where they were born, and the migratory species, commonly known as locusts. The Rocky Mountain Locusts used to be a major plague of the Old West, destroying anything green in their path. To this day, many of our large cooperative insect control programs are aimed at grasshoppers, especially in the west. As our days become cooler, the highpitched buzzing of the cicada will drop to a low ebb, but will return next summer with renewed vigour. You will need to be quick though, as cicadas are on a tight schedule. Terry Sprague lives in Prince Edward County and is a retired interpretive naturalist and hike leader. See his website at www.naturestuff.net. He can be reached at tsprague@xplornet.com.

Katydids have a file on one wing and a scraper on the other. When rasped together, they produce the familiar grinding “katy-did” sound.

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General excavation - land clearing, basements, retaining walls, trenching, etc. Septic systems - design and licensed installer Landscaping Trucking - sand, gravel and topsoil Demolition - buildings, barns, etc. For all your excavating needs call RICK at Cell: 613-561-6585 Email: rick.tuepah@gmail.com August / September 2019 • The SCOOP


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The SCOOP // August / September 2019  

The SCOOP is an independent community newsmagazine. Since 2005, we have been covering rural life in the Ontario area north of the 401 and so...

The SCOOP // August / September 2019  

The SCOOP is an independent community newsmagazine. Since 2005, we have been covering rural life in the Ontario area north of the 401 and so...