With the roar of a million katydids at night and even more of these cicadas during the day, there is no silence in the woods this time of year. We call these cicadas “jar flies”. Some say it is because, when you hold one in your hand, it vibrates or “jars”. Others say it is because their constant and high-pitched singing can “jar” your nerves. We have these large, harmless insects in huge numbers every year in our area, always during the hottest part of the summer. When a thousand of these things are all singing at once, it can definitely be jarring… This one sat on my patio today, singing his shrill song.
The name is a direct derivation of the Latin cicada, meaning “buzzer”.
Some cicadas produce sounds up to 120 dB “at close range”, among the loudest of all insect-produced sounds. Conversely, some small species have songs so high in pitch that the noise is inaudible to humans. Species have different mating songs to ensure they attract the appropriate mate. It can be difficult to determine which direction(s) cicada song is coming from, because the low pitch carries well and because it may, in fact, be coming from many directions at once, as cicadas in various trees all make noise at once.
In addition to the mating song, many species also have a distinct distress call, usually a somewhat broken and erratic sound emitted when an individual is seized. A number of species also have a courtship song, which is often a quieter call and is produced after a female has been drawn by the calling song.