Spring’s Re-emergence of Sound: Cicadas

The chirp of cicadas is an obvious sonic signal that Winter has come to an end. The many rhythms and tonalities of cicadas was one of the first sounds which drew me towards field recording. Their call remains one of my favourite sounds. This clip captures what I believe to be the first cicada in my garden for the season. On a hot and windy Sunday afternoon it took centre-stage for about 5 minutes before fading back into silence. Its solo-call sounded almost metallic and industrial.

Later that day as the sun began to set a chorus of cicadas called from 2 neighbouring trees. Interestingly their call mirrored that of the solo cicada, though this time the clarity was blurred due to the multitude of voices.

The ability of cicadas to follow or anticipate the changes in rhythm and pitch has always intrigued me. A quick look at the Australian Museum web-site shows that only the male cicada sings. In Australia there are 220 different species of cicada. Each has its own distinct call in order to attract the appropriate mate. The call of some cicadas has been measured at 120 dB, loud enough to cause deafness. This mass volume effectively deters birds and other predators as it is painful to them and interferes with their communication.

Cicadas spend the majority of their lives underground as nymphs, sometimes for as long as 6-7 years. In the last few months of their life they emerge from the earth, usually in Spring/Summer, and it is then that we hear them. I’m looking forward to visiting some forests later in the year which will be sure to provide more dramatic opportunities for recording.

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