The Sound of Cicadas

When I was growing up, I used to listen to the sound of the cicadas in our back yard. It’s the sound that I associate with the hot days and evenings of summer.

Mount Katahdin, Appalachian Trail
Mount Katahdin, Appalachian Trail

Yesterday morning, as I was hiking the last few miles of Maine’s 100 mile wilderness, I came to an open area in the woods called Rainbow Ledges. The profile of Mount Katadhin loomed largely through the haze. It is amazingly big, even from 20 miles away.

But what really caught my attention was the sound of a single cicada. It is a clicking sound, quite unlike the throbbing hum of the massed cicadas in the trees around me. It reminded me of the sound of the baseball cards we use to clip to the spokes of our bicycles when I was young.

Male cicadas make this sound by flapping their wings against their exposed exoskeleton. It seems to take a lot of energy because this fellow would hop up into the air, fly about 10 feet clicking away, and land to rest for a few minutes in between flights.

It got me wondering. Why does the sound of massed cicadas sound different from the sound of one? I don’t know.

It’s moments like these that I savor on backpacking trips. When my wonder of the world around me becomes more absorbing than my other thoughts about the past or future, I know I’ve reached my destination.

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  1. cicadas are out in force down here (GA), they keep my miniature dachshund busy chasing them off the deck. I guess I've gotten used to their sound and hardly notice them.

    I did a section hike in NC summer 2009, by mid morning the sound of cicadas made it impossible to talk to my hiking partner. The first morning I didn't recognize the sound being so many and expected to find a trail crew with a weed eater…that's what it sounded like to me. On the final day of our hike the trail was covered with 1000's of carcasses, with every step came a crunch.

    cicadas are really cool looking, black body, bright red/orange eyes and stripe going from head down their body

  2. I've often wondered about cicadas. We've always thought of those as the "17-year locusts" in my region, and there's no mistaking when that 17th year arrives. However, every summer, I remember the wavering "buzz" of an insect my mother called a "jar fly", that I've come to think of as a cicada. Are these different species, or are there 17-year locusts that are out and about every summer?

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