Archive for Friday, August 24, 2007

Cicada chorus fills the air

August 24, 2007



Cicadas, the world's loudest insect, have recently emerged from below where they have spent the last seven years underground as nymphs waiting for just the right time to climb out, shed their skin and sound their mating call. Enlarge video

A Bug's Life

  1. Female cicadas lay their eggs on bark.
  2. Newborn nymphs drop and burrow into the ground.
  3. Nymphs spend between two and 17 years underground feeding on root juice.
  4. Nymphs emerge from the ground and shed their skin.
  5. Adult males sing to attract females, a mating ritual.
  6. Back to No. 1. (The life span of an adult cicada is three weeks).

Dear Mr. Cicada,

As your next-door neighbor, I think it's time that you turn down the volume a few decibels. Your acoustics are shrill and inescapable.

My cat is even afraid to go outside. But if you must sing, maybe you can take requests. I'd prefer to hear Mozart's Symphony No. 40 over that annoying C-flat screech any day.

Sincerely, Thad Allender

Cicadas, the world's loudest insect, have emerged from below where they have spent years underground as nymphs waiting for just the right time to climb out, shed their skin and sound their mating call.

Higher-than-average rainfall and ideal climate conditions have produced an abundance of cicadas that are joining in chorus across northeast Kansas.

"There are some that are basically as loud as a jet engine taking off," said Jeff Cole, a Ph.D. candidate at Kansas University's ecology and evolutionary biology department. "The loudest species can get up to 120 decibels, which is about the pain threshold of human ears."

This week, the cicadas have been singing nearly all day. "I've heard them singing until 1 a.m.," Cole said.

The cicada cacophony requires teamwork. Large numbers of males congregate in an area and sing to attract females, typically in the evening to avoid predation.

Male cicadas rely on their tymbal, an organ similar to a snap cap on a juice lid, to produce the sound. A strong muscle attached to the tymbal contracts, vibrating the tymbal membrane, and sends a pulsating sound through the cicada's mostly hollow abdomen.

Kathy Houchin doesn't know much about the insects other than that they are loud and one of summer's oddities.

"It sounds like an army of maracas," she said. "Thousands of them."

Houchin, who lives in south Lawrence off Lawrence Avenue, said she has empty shells of the cicadas littering her yard and clinging to her trees.


craigers 9 years ago

I think the LJW runs this cicada story on a yearly basis. I knew I remembered it from somewhere.

Mackadoo 9 years ago

My mom moved to Phoenix a few years ago and likes to call me some evenings during the summer just to hear the cicadas sing from my end of the phone -- I guess she misses the little guys.

Gene Wee 9 years ago

Thad's photography is stunning - again! You have to log on to the web page to see all the good stuff.

matahari 9 years ago

Singing? I call it... well I dunno, but it's something other than singing to my ears~

Tychoman 9 years ago

Lighten up, Angus and b3. It figures one of you would make a political aside in an article that has nothing to do with politics. You stay classy.

Katie Van Blaricum 9 years ago

Oh Rachael, you have plenty! I need some of the kind we have around here for my metamorphoisis project. :) See my bug store at if you like bugs! I'm also teaching a bug class for kids at Art Real ( on Saturdays in September!

canyon_wren 9 years ago

Nice article! I was in Kansas a few weeks ago--went there too soon, I guess, as I love to hear the cicadas (thought 120 decibels might be a bit much!). I always liked driving through Kansas about dusk and coming to a small town where you could hear them singing as you approached. When we were growing up in Wichita, we picked the "skins" off the big elm tree in our front yard and saved them. Can't remember what we wound up doing with them but I still have one my sister put in one of those picture frame collection things (I forget the name) that used to be so popular.

lounger 9 years ago

I was doing some recording in my house the other evening (with closed doors and windows) and you can actually here the cicada's on the recording! It just part of summer to me. I believe in 1998 we had two different types hatch and I lived by lake clinton at the time and it was so loud you could not be outside at the peak!!

perkins 9 years ago

People who tend to suffer from ringing in the ears probably are especially annoyed by the racket. Perhaps the ear doctors see an increase in business from this phenomenon!

costello 9 years ago

"People who tend to suffer from ringing in the ears probably are especially annoyed by the racket. Perhaps the ear doctors see an increase in business from this phenomenon!"

Actually cicadas sound exactly like my tinnitus - just louder. :-) So for those who don't like the sound, imagine having it in your ears 24/7. Since I've had tinnitus since I was a child - I was an adult before I realized that not everyone had a constant buzzing in their ears - it doesn't bother me at all.

Charles L Bloss Jr 9 years ago

It sure doesn't seem like 17 years since the last story about these bugs. My lab loves eating them. They must taste sweet or something. She keeps us up all night wanting to go out and feast on the bugs! She does it during the day too, but we don't notice it as much then, The more she eats the less I have to listen to, so go for it girl. Thank you, Lynn

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