During the last of the heat of summer, the air around Camp Salmen is filled with the thunderous serenade of the Cicadas (order Hemiptera). If you listen carefully you’ll hear the different summertime songs used by different species to attract mates. Some have a long, loud ascending then descending song. Some have an undulating ”wee-oh-wee-oh-wee-oh” song. Some sing for just a few seconds at a time. It is supposed that a bunch of them singing in one location have it so their songs overlap and confuse predators. Indeed, it’s hard to tell exactly where they are up there among the leaves of the trees.
All cicadas spend most of their lives underground in the dirt sucking on roots. Most varieties do this for two to eight years but two varieties famously stay underground for 13 and 17 years. The thirteen-year brood just emerged to great fanfare both in the press and in the air around the park. In the end, the cicada finally crawls out of the dirt up a tree trunk and the tender “nymph” shucks itself out of the back of its last molt and leaves the empty shell clinging there. They stiffen up to look sort of like a huge, bug-eyed fly and spend this final stage singing in the trees and mating. Ah, the life.
They make sound with a membrane in their chest called a “tymbal.” When they suck it in it makes a loud click and when it flexes back out it makes another click. They do this so rapidly it makes a buzz and hollow chambers and vents in their chest and throat amplify it to a hundred decibels and attenuate the sound to their taste. One observer wrote that holding a cicada when they made noise was like holding a joy buzzer.
Some mistakenly call them locusts but a true locust is more like the kinds of grasshoppers that occur in great, Biblical plagues to consume Midwestern crops and clog car radiators.
Cicadas are usually accompanied by the staccato, late summer trilling of crickets in the background but it all sounds just like a case of tinnitus to me.
And, yes, they are eaten by people in Africa, Asia and Latin America and, at one time, by the Ancient Greeks but, alas, this did not remain a part of European culinary tradition. Now some folks in Columbia, Missouri are trying to get the ball rolling on cicada eating in the U.S. but I don’t think it will catch on here since we already have our own peculiar culinary habit of eating “Mudbugs” in mass quantities.