Cicadas: Why They Sing at Night

You probably experienced it while on vacation. In the stillness of the night, a familiar, yet mysterious sound fills the air—the chorus of cicadas.

At night, these mysterious creatures buzz loudly, but people seldom sees them; they mostly just hear them. But why do cicadas choose the cover of darkness to sing? Let's delve into the fascinating world of cicadas.

Nocturnal Vibrations: Understanding Cicadas' Nighttime Calls
Cicadas have one of the longest lifecycles of any insect, spending as many as 17 years underground before emerging

The soundtrack of Summer is the singing of cicadas

Ever tried to make yourself heard in a crowded room? Cicadas know the struggle. With so much daytime noise competing for attention, it's tough for these bugs stand out from the crowd. As the sun sets, cicadas seize the opportunity to sing without noise.

Just like a peacock flaunting its feathers, male cicadas use their calls to attract partners. Each species has its unique song, acting as a sort of love song. By singing after dark, cicadas create a romantic ambiance, setting the stage for nocturnal courtship rituals.

Cicadas aren't just singing for romance; they're also chatting with each other. Cicadas communicate various messages using a variety of calls, from warning about predators to inviting group gatherings. By serenading each other after dark, cicadas ensure they convey their messages loud and clear.

From Nymph to Adult: The Story of Cicada Transformation
Male cicadas make loud buzzing or clicking sounds using special parts on their bodies called 'tymbals.' The sound can be as loud as 120 decibels, which is like the noise level of a chainsaw

Cicadas are masters of survival, and their nighttime chorus serves that. Many of the predators that prey on cicadas, such as birds and certain mammals, are less active at night. By singing after dark, cicadas reduce their risk of becoming a late-night snack. For cicadas, the nighttime environment simply offers more peace in their lives.

In habitats with many species, each species has its unique song, serving as a sort of musical name tag. By singing at night, cicadas avoid the confusion of overlapping calls from others.

Another crucial factor influencing cicadas singing is temperature regulation. Cicadas are ectothermic, meaning they rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature. In hot climates, daytime temperatures can soar to levels that are uncomfortable or even dangerous. By singing at night, when temperatures are cooler, cicadas can conserve energy and avoid overheating.

The Life of Cicadas

The life cycle of cicadas is fascinating, considering that these remarkable insects spend the majority of their lives underground as nymphs, feeding on sap from tree roots. Depending on the species, this underground phase can last anywhere from two to seventeen years.

Cicada Chorus: Understanding Their Singing Behavior
Cicadas play a vital role in forest ecosystems by loosening the soil and pruning tree roots as nymphs

When the time is right, nymphs emerge from the earth, shedding their shell to reveal their adult form. Adult cicadas quickly grow up and climb into trees to make beautiful sounds that humans love to hear in the summer. After mating and hatching eggs, tiny nymphs dig into the soil to start their long stay underground again. It's the never-ending cycle of nature. 

Cicadas with 13 or 17-year life span, spend only a few weeks singing. Next time you hear cicadas remember it's a marvel of nature; it takes 17 years to prepare them for that moment.

Metamorphosis of the Cicada: A Life Cycle Journey
Adult cicadas do not feed on plant leaves like other insects. Instead, they use their piercing mouthparts to extract fluids from the xylem of trees and shrubs

Their time as adults is short compared to the years spent underground. Nonetheless, they make the most of it by singing one of the most beautiful songs of nature.

What part of the body of cicadas creates their characteristic song?

The source of the characteristic sound produced by cicadas lies in a fascinating anatomical feature: the tymbals. These are special body parts, similar musical instruments, found on the sides of male cicadas' bodies. 

Tymbals are thin membranes that cicadas can contract and relax rapidly, creating vibrations. When the muscles connected to the tymbals contract, they buckle inward, producing a click-like sound. As they relax, the tymbals return to their original position, generating another click.

Cicada Chorus: Deciphering Their Singing Behavior in the Summer Night Meadow
While many insects are active during the day, cicadas are primarily nocturnal, with most species singing during the evening and nighttime hours

By repeating this process rapidly, cicadas create their characteristic buzzing or chirping sound. It's a remarkable example of nature's resourcefulness.

Next time cicadas sing at night, enjoy their summer melody—it's magical, and you can join in.

Cicadas in Japanese culture

Japan has a significant population of cicadas. Many Western tourists visiting Japan during the summer complain about the incessant buzzing, particularly in rural areas. 

Cicadas, known as "semi" in Japanese are often associated with the hot summer season. Cicadas frequently appear in Japanese poetry, including haiku. Poets often use their buzzing sound to evoke the atmosphere of summer or the fleeting nature of life.

Natsume Soseki:

"In the deep shade of the porch,

A cicada is crying;

yet Everything else is still."


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