Cicadas: The Summer Screamers

By Jadyn Miller

Have you ever been out on a nice summer night, when you suddenly heard a noise loud enough to rival a jet plane? If you have ever heard a cicada, that is about what it sounds like. But, how much do you really know about these loud little critters?

One common mistake people make is between locusts and cicadas. Locusts are a type of large grasshopper, while cicadas are actually related to the cricket. Locusts are different from grasshoppers only in that they are known to swarm under certain conditions. Cicadas, on the other hand, do not do this.

The confusion came when settlers first moved to North America. The colonists saw the cicadas swarming off the ground every summer (when they first emerged), but because they are not like any that are found in other places, the colonists did not know what they were. The settlers all knew the Bible well, so the only thing they had to compare these weird bugs to was the locust. That is why there is so much confusion between cicadas and locusts today.

We now know that the odd little critters that the settlers found were what we call periodical cicadas. These cicadas come out every 13 or 17 years and are only found in North America. While we do not have the periodical cicada in Prescott, but we have another species; the southwestern giant floodplain cicada.

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The southwestern giant floodplain cicada comes out every three years, but they have staggered out so that we get them every year. They make a noise that to most is not enjoyable to hear.

Although cicadas look a lot like locusts, they are actually related to the cricket. They make their noise in a different way from the cricket, though. While crickets rub their wings against each other to produce noise, cicadas use several other methods as well.

Females use the same method as the crickets to respond to males, but males use a special organ called a tymbal to attract the females. The cicadas use the tymbal by tensing certain muscles, which makes it vibrate, producing sound. The sound produced is so loud, that prolonged exposure to it can result in hearing loss in humans. Most cicadas produce sound at around 90 decibels, but the loudest of them can be up to 105 decibels.

These strange bugs can be found on every continent but Antarctica. Surprisingly, are over 2,500 species that are just found in the United States! They are found all over the world, but the periodical cicada, a very popular species, is only found in North America.

Every species makes its own distinct sound. Some make a noise similar to scissors, although the ones found here sound more like screeching. Different species also make the noise differently. While some species will call back and forth, others will try to be louder to drown out the noise of each other. They will sometimes make noise all at once to try to attract females to an area. They make these noises, along with others, and every single noise has a reason.

Overall, cicadas are very loud, yet interesting creatures. They are unique in many ways, and though they drive us crazy, they are still an intriguing mystery to many.