Aug 10 2011

What’s That Sound?

Published by at 7:30 am under Insects, Fish, Frogs

Ticking, whirring, grating, droning.  August is Bug Noise month.

Nature is loud right now.  During the day there’s a chirping and buzz-saw whine; at dusk, a grinding, droning chorus and a faint whirring sound.  Marianne Atkinson, who lives in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, says “a loud, 2 part, harsh sound, repeated quickly, sort of like saying hello” starts up at twilight near her home.

What makes these sounds?

I searched the web for an answer and found this helpful page on the Music of Nature website:  the songs of 20 common insect species.

Just for fun I listened to a few of the recordings and they solved an old mystery.

Years ago, before Duquesne Light cut back the trees across the street, we heard a ticking sound at night in the summer.  The bug that made that sound is pictured above, a greater angle-wing katydid.  It actually made two mystery sounds:  the ticking and a periodic “dzit.”

When we had the greater angle-wing katydid in our neighborhood I never saw it among the leaves.  If it had perched on a lawn chair, as this one did in Texas, I would certainly have noticed it!

Listen to the Songs of Insects and you might find the one that puzzles you.

(photo in the public domain from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the photo to see the original.)

19 responses so far

19 Responses to “What’s That Sound?”

  1. Mary Jo Bermanon 10 Aug 2011 at 8:34 am

    Kate –
    I read your blog everyday — I feel like I’ve earned a bachelors degree in botany and biology just from reading your blog. And the pictures and videos you provide are amazing.

    thanks !!!

  2. Marianneon 10 Aug 2011 at 10:56 am

    I was so excited to see this blog entry today! Thank you! Lots of great info, since I don’t know a lot about insects! For example, I didn’t know there were several kinds of katydids and crickets!

    With great anticipation, I clicked on the link to the insect sounds. Unfortunately, my loud mystery insect at dusk/twilight isn’t one of the 20 common ones listed. It has a similar harsh voice to the Common True Katydid, but is harsher, louder and 2 syllables.

    The link was still helpful though, since now I believe that one of the sounds I hear in the evening is the Broad-winged Tree Cricket. This insect song link is fantastic!

    I have looked online for insect sounds to find my mystery insect and didn’t have any luck. Therefore, I ordered a book and cd of night-time insect songs. I will let you know if I figure it out, or if anyone can post on this blog what it might be.

  3. Kate St. Johnon 10 Aug 2011 at 11:04 am

    You can also try looking up individual insects via the Music of Nature home page.
    The problem with that method is that you have to know the name of what you’re looking for before you look it up. 🙁

  4. Rob Protzon 10 Aug 2011 at 11:26 am

    Hey Kate,

    I learned something from this great website too! I always thought that the cicadas we had here along the Allegheny were dog-day cicadas. Not according to the Music of Nature. We have Scissor-Grinder Cicadas! I do love that sound though, it’s like a lullaby anymore.


  5. faith cornellon 10 Aug 2011 at 11:42 am

    These are grand stories this day. I wear 2 hearing aids so when I walk & hear things I always have to stop & make sure they are bugs &not the ones in my ears. Love hearing all the chirps & drones & music they make. Such interesting experiences you all have.

    PS: I had a relative visit me yesterday from Boston Mass & he was bragging that a few business owners there tookit upon themselves to do what we do here, film peregrine nests on bldgs there. He said the whole town was in awe. Of course after he was done bragging I let him on our “little” secret here. He had lived in Pgh. in past so he was amazed also. So another kudo for Kate & “her crew” & all her fans.

    Have a wonderful day everyone.

  6. Stephenon 10 Aug 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Last weekend I was in West Virginia, and at dusk we were taking a walk and hearing a few katydids, which I knew because I have a few in my backyard in Pittsburgh, and had identified them through a Sounds of Common Insects audio book I have. I pulled out my iPhone and played the Common True Katydid recording for my friends, and said “and listen to the chorus”, which was a recording of a bunch of katydids calling in unison — very impressive. Well, wouldn’t you know it, later on that evening, being out in the country, we got a live pulsating chorus of katydids to listen to ourselves. It was very cool to hear, and a reminder of what we lose as we displace wildlife in the city. It was awfully loud too, though, and I was glad I could shut the window and get some sleep. Pretty neat, but don’t think I would want a chorus in my backyard every night!

  7. Kathy Mon 11 Aug 2011 at 7:19 am

    We have katydids in our neighborhood that sound like the recording of the common true katydid. Sometimes they have 3, and sometimes 2 syllables. Often only 2: “Katy” instead of “Katydid”. They are really loud and I love them!

  8. Rob Protzon 11 Aug 2011 at 11:06 am

    Yesterday evening (Wed.) when I left Allegheny Valley Hospital in Natrona Hts. after a meeting, I walked down Carlisle St. to head home as usual. Carlisle St from the hospital down to Morgan St. and then on to where it curls into Freeport Rd. is your prototypical “tree-lined” street with huge maples and other large tree on both sides. I’m not sure the sun ever hits the pavement in the middle of the street there when the tree have leaves!

    Not far down the street one Scissor-Grinder Cicada started to sing, and then just as he stopped, another just down the street started up to answer him (that’s pretty typical). Somehow I don’t think I could enjoy summer without them. They only started singing a few weeks ago, which I think was a little late, but I’m glad they’re serenading us.


  9. Anne Curtison 11 Aug 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Tim found a praying mantis on the wall of our house when he was trimming the yews today. I went to look, and saw instead an errant fragment of yew on the windowsill and screamed to him that she’d eaten his HEAD off! Oops!


  10. Kathyon 12 Aug 2011 at 8:24 am

    Kate, here is a question for you. Last night I was sitting out on the porch and there was a cacohony of drones, buzzes, clicks and clangs. They were all going in unison as if performing a grand concert, when a fire truck went screaming by. Immediately all insects stopped. I mean silence. As the fire siren grew fainter down the road, it was as if a conductor raised his baton and they all started up again. Coincidence or are they affected that way by a louder noise? Do you or any one know?

  11. Kate St. Johnon 12 Aug 2011 at 9:02 am

    They certainly do respond to loud noises. Chuck Tague once told me that he and Joan were birding near an Air Force Base in the spring when all the birds were singing. Suddenly a VERY loud formation of military jets flew low overhead. The entire forest fell silent. When the planes were gone and the air was quiet the birds began to sing again.

  12. Kathyon 12 Aug 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Thanks, Kate…I KNEW you or someone you know would have the answer. I LOVE all the things I learn here from you and the others.

  13. Wendyon 22 Aug 2011 at 11:45 pm

    At this moment I am sitting about 3 feet from a katydid that decided it wants to hang out on my screen. He’s been there all day, in the area between the screen and the open window. I haven’t heard a sound from it all day, it just crawls around once in a while. What does it want? And why is it so quiet while all the other insects are out there in our pines and maples singing as usual?

  14. Kate St. Johnon 13 Sep 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Heard a greater angle-wing katydid tonight in my neighborhood for the first time in years!

  15. Kate St. Johnon 22 Jul 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Note: Here’s the cicada webpage at Songs of Insects:

  16. Kate St. Johnon 07 Aug 2012 at 9:17 pm

    Heard a lesser angle-wing ( outside my window at home, 8/7/2012, 9:15pm.

  17. Kellieon 27 Sep 2012 at 11:23 am

    THANK YOU for this page and this beautiful website!! You have solved the mystery of “what is that ticking sound” – I had never before heard the ticking of the greater anglewing in this area (Framingham MA) until a couple of weeks ago and thought I was losing my mind suddenly hearing a mysterious ticking in the trees!! 🙂

  18. Jo-Ann Kamion 14 Feb 2014 at 3:16 am

    You are a kindred soul to me. I am so happy to have bumped into this site.

    I have been recording the succession of night sounds from spring to fall. I’m a bird watcher and amateur astronomer. Last year I was organized and recorded the frog choruses at a nearby pond, and tried to get all the bird calls in my yard and the bug calls as well. That ticking of the lesser angle wing, for years, I kept thinking was a mechanical thing by my house then once I finally heard it as we drove past another neighborhood.

    Once you really pay attention,nature gets more and more fascinating. I just bought that book with the CD this past month. Now if only I could capture the noises of the woodcock’s mating display on mt simple set up.

  19. tobiason 26 Feb 2017 at 3:35 pm

    the song of the robust cone head is so loud 116 db super loud
    but there are some songs of animals that i want to know
    and how they sound.
    for an example
    1 the mimicking snout nosed katydid an katydid from Australia
    2 the spiny devil katydid.
    and some more>
    can someone make a record of those animals??
    cause i like those insects that make a lot of noise

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