What’s that sound? In July the birds stop singing and the bugs begin. Some sing during the day, others at night. We usually don’t see what’s making the noise but sometimes we can identify the bugs by song. Here’s a group of insects that are fairly easy to figure out.
Cicadas sing during the day and they are loud. Some songs are so unique that you can identify the bug if you know what to listen for.
Here are audio descriptions for five common species of annual(*) cicadas in southwestern Pennsylvania in order of “most likely to hear/notice,” at least in my experience.
As with birds, pay attention to the habitat where you hear a cicada. Swamp cicadas, for example, are only found in swamps or marshes.
- Scissor grinder cicada (Neotibicen pruinosus). Easiest sound to identify.
- Song: a repetitive WEEE ah, WEEE ah, WEEE ah, WEEE ah, tapers at end
- When? may begin in late morning, but sings the most at dusk
- Where? deciduous forest, city woodlots, parks
- Click here to hear Scissor grinder cicada at songsofinsects.com
- Linne’s cicada (Neotibicen linnei)
- Song: burry rattle, sort of hissy, tapers at end. Songsofinsects describes it as “rattling like a salt shaker.”
- When? all day long in warm weather
- Where? deciduous forest, city parks, woodlots
- Click here to hear Linne’s cicada at songsofinsects.com
- Lyric cicada (Neotibicen lyricen)
- Song: a constant burry puttering drone. It doesn’t taper at the end.
- When? all day long in warm weather, but sings the most at dusk
- Where? woodlots, suburbs, orchards
- Click here to hear Lyric cicada at songsofinsects.com
- Dog Day Cicada (Neotibicen canicularis) This is the sound of a hot day in Maine.
- Song: wiry drone on the same pitch, tapers at end. Sounds like a high-pitched buzz-saw
- When? in the heat of the day
- Where? the most northern species, likes pine trees.
- Click here to hear Dog Day Cicada at songsofinsects.com
- Swamp cicada (Neotibicen tibicen tibicen)
- Song: burry, rattling, very rapid “wappa wappa wappa wappa” with rich round background sound that rises and falls in pitch from start to end
- When? early morning until noon
- Where? found only in swamps and marshes
- Click here to hear Swamp cicada at songsofinsects.com
Identifying cicada songs are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the sounds of bugs. There are an amazing number of vocal bugs including crickets, katydids and grasshoppers.
Have you heard a bug you can’t identify? Click here for the Songs of Insects guide to common insect species and their sounds. There are 80 species on this page!
(photo by Dana Nesiti)
p.s. Annual(*) cicadas have a life cycle of 2-5 years but they seem “annual” because some individuals in each species reach adulthood every year (i.e. the species appears annually).
p.p.s There aren’t many scissor-grinders in my neighborhood this year. I wonder if they had a bad reproductive year the last time this brood was above ground. How long do scissor-grinders take to reach adulthood? If it’s 5 years then that’d be 2012, a very hot year. Hmmm.