The loud, shrill sound we have all been hearing for the past few weeks is actually the love song of male cicadas. They are competing for female attention and try mightily to drown out the mating call of all the other males – females are silent. A female will respond by demurely flickering her wings when she chooses a partner.
That entire racket is created because the male has two membranes located on each side of its abdomen and when they contract these “tymbalds”, they make a clicking sound. Think of those clicker toys made of thin metal and imagine a thousand children all trying to out click each other as fast as they can press and release, over and over again. Cicadas are the loudest insects in our region and they thrive in the summer heat. The heat and that loud piercing buzz protect them from many predators and is also a harbinger of the arrival of our monsoon.
The Southwest is known for having the highest insect diversity in the nation and here in Arizona we have the greatest diversity of cicada species in the country. The Giant Floodplain Cicada is only slightly smaller than a hummingbird and the continents smallest cicada; Beameria venosa, also resides in our state. Each species makes its own unique courtship call.
Cicadas spend the majority of their life underground as nymphs feeding on tree roots with their piercing, sucking mouthparts. In our region the life cycle of the various species is 2 to 3 to 4 years underground and then they emerge, molt and become an adult. They climb up into the trees and live for two to three weeks buzzing for the entire time. And, trying to avoid the “Cicada Killer”! (To be continued at the HCNH)
Image of Grand Western Floodplain Cicada: Stuart Wilson