Walking out into the garden this evening, I was met with the familiar sound of August in the Midwest — the sometimes deafening drone of the annual cicada (Tibicen linnei). All the noise you hear on these late summer evenings is the mating song of the male cicada.
Normally, the cicadas are so high up in the trees that they are only heard and not seen. Tonight I spent some time with video camera in hand to catch one on video, to see just how a relative small creature can make enough noise to drown out the other sounds of a suburban community.
I found one cicada perched on the trunk of a Whitespire birch (Betula populifolia ‘Whitespire’) that seemed unfazed by my presence and the light shining on it from my video camera. According to the Wikipedia article on cicadas, the sound is created as the cicada vibrates membranes in its abdomen and modulates the tone by moving its abdomen closer to and away from the tree.
I watched this cicada go through 20-30 second cycles where the vibrations started slowly, reached crescendo and then tapered off, only to start again after a rest of perhaps ten seconds. The tip of its abdomen travels a good 3/4″ with each swing back and forth, making the cicada appear to be doing some sort of aerobic exercises.
I don’t know how often the song of these insects results in a successful mating, but I’ve got to give them credit for trying. It occurred to me that the cicada literally has a one-track mind, and made me picture a bunch of human males sitting up in trees, singing while exercising, hoping to attract a mate.
It’s certainly a funny image to conjure, but I bet we’d all have better abs.