The Chirping Cicada

The Chirping Cicada

On hot summer nights on the Gulf Coast of Florida, if you close your eyes, cock your head just right and listen closely, you might hear the strident chitter of the cicada… Alright, if we’re being honest, it’s almost impossible not to hear the loud chirrup of the Cicadoidea. The only hard part is separating their sound from the more guttural shup-shup of the tree frogs.

At least it seems so for us. Cicadas themselves are never confused. In fact, each of the 19 species in Florida has their own distinct ‘song’ they use to communicate, usually, like many species, to attract mates. For all of the Florida cicadas, only the males repeat their undulating chirp – females are silent.

The sound the males produce is made with paired timbals – miniature drum (or cymbal) like surfaces on the sides of their abdomen. When the insect flexes the muscle attached to the timbal, it sucks in and pops out. In a way, it’s similar to a dog training clicker. Or imagine breathing in and out but every breath causes a thrumming pop – and when they get excited – it creates hours of uninterrupted night music.

Cycles of Life

Cicadas spend most of their lives underground going through a series of four molts. The process takes months and months – at minimum two to four years. Sometimes their underground life lasts much longer - such as the infamous Brood X that emerged in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana, and Tennessee in 2021 after 17 years underground.

Adults live in the trees and that’s also where the females lay their eggs. Depending on the species, the eggs may hatch later that year or the same time the following year.

Other than an occasional interruption of the asparagus fern life, causing a florist crisis, cicadas are harmless to humans and crops – just loud. They also provide an essential source of food for various birds, small mammals, and even other insects.

While often lumped in together, cicadas are not grasshoppers or locusts. They belong to the same family as aphids and leafhoppers – and in fact, are closely related to shrimp! So if you’re kosher or allergic to shellfish, you’ll want to avoid eating them. And yes, if you can find and collect them, cicadas are a bit of a delicacy.

Cultural Conundrum

Cicadas have long held a place in literature and history.

For Greek poets, cicadas symbolized death and rebirth due to the bugs’ long and then mysterious life cycle. The philosopher Plato, in his Phaedrus, postulates that the insects had originally been men who became so enraptured by music, they forgot to eat and drink and their bodies wasted away.

One of the oldest stories in France is how God sent the cicada to rouse the peasants from their afternoon naps so they would not become lazy. Only one problem – the sound actually relaxed the men and lulled them to sleep.

French poet Jean de La Fontaine rewrote one of Aesop’s famous fables as “La Cigale et la Fourmi” (“The Cicada and the Ant”) in 1668, likely representing the earliest instance of cicada-grasshopper confusion. But the tale stuck and Aix-en-Provence, France, the area de La Fontaine called home, adopted and still uses cicadas as one of their most iconic symbols.

It is highly unlikely that a cicada will make its way into your home, and other than their song and a few broken branches from egg laying, you’re unlikely to encounter a cicada in everyday life.

Other bugs are not as accommodating. If you’ve got flies, roaches, silverfish, ants or spiders in your home, we can help. Our most popular treatment – Go Green Perimeter Plus – provides a safe and effective solution to those insect invaders. For more details or to schedule your first appointment, just give us a call!


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