Jun 30 2010

Rhythm of the Cicada

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to photograph a cicada? I’ve been chasing these noisy insects around for weeks, and to no avail. How quickly I felt outsmarted! Each time I’d approach a bush or tree – abuzz with the distinctive cicada cacophony – I’d get very close, scanning and scanning, yet seeing nothing.

One of thousands of cicadas along the San Pedro riverbed in southern Arizona. Click photo to enlarge.

They’d toy with me. A sharp “buzz,” then silence. Another “buzz,” then silence. One even flew into my ear when I was on the four-wheeler, heading to my “Cicada Rendezvous” by the river. Talk about taunting (and did I mention, Ouch? They’re pretty darn big when they bounce off an ear hole!). And one day, during a jog, one of them let off this offensive screeching noise low to the ground as I ran by. Let’s just say that it startled me so much, I did an in-the-air-cartoon dust cloud. I think I was levitating.

So, yes … I wanted to photograph these elusive, ornery bugs. My fascination was also influenced by the fact that I appreciate their ‘wit.’ Plus, it’s pretty impressive that they can live underground for most of the year, feeding on roots – only to emerge from holes in May or June in droves, filling the desert days and nights with song. The first trill of a cicada – to me, at least – means that Arizona’s overbearing summer heat has arrived. And the trees that get a natural pruning each year, as a result, seem none the worse for wear (the females cut slits into branches to deposit eggs; then the branches fall off – at the outer tips of a limb – the eggs falling to the ground. Repeat the cycle.).

So while I jest about the cicada’s elusive qualities and wit, the reality is that when the end of August nears and the cicadas crawl back into the ground, the desert will be a bit less noisy. And, admittedly, I’ll miss those ornery insects.

Listen to the sounds of Arizona’s cicadas on the video below, then, writers, scroll for tips.

For Writers:

How would you describe what you hear in the above video? Is the sound reminiscent of the rattle of a rattlesnake? The vigorous shaking of maracas? My description: the sound was so intense, so nearly deafening, that when I spoke, I was sure I was slurring my speech. It felt like my S’es were coming out all wrong, blended in so perfectly with the hiss of the cicadas that even I couldn’t tell if I’d spoken them … Really, it was that loud. The audio doesn’t really do the scenario justice, unfortunately. But use your imagination!


12 Responses to “Rhythm of the Cicada”

  • avatar Laura Simon Says:

    Come to Cincinnati during the 17-year cicada exodus…they cover every single surface. You won’t have a problem getting a picture; the problem is keeping them out of your hair. I still shudder when I hear a cicada call; I used to think it was soothing.

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    Melissa Reply:

    We had a similar grasshopper exodus in Phoenix years ago. Couldn’t drive without crunching them under your tires. Yuck! But, yes, I can see how your perspective would be much different than mine!

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  • avatar Roxanne Garcia Says:

    hey I know where you took this picture!!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Tsk. Tsk. But no one else does :-). It’s our secret! Went back the next night, after you introduced us to the area.

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  • avatar Geoff Says:

    The description made it imaginable for me. My Sony VAIO didn’t seem to pick up the sound much, even on full volume.. I tried headphones and the sound was still at too low a volume for me. You description worked for me. My mind conjured up a sound that fit your description. I have been to AZ a few times but never heard the Cicada. Next time I will make it a point

    Thanks for the tip!

    Geoff

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Sorry you couldn’t hear them. But glad my description helped you hear them in your mind!

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  • avatar Shelby Says:

    I’m not a fan of cicadas after being dive-bombed by them. I think I’d describe the sound as an extremely high decible white noise coming from the radio or the sound of a thousand very high-frequency power lines. Great picture!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Okay, Okay. So not everyone appreciates them like I do. Dive-bombing, yes, might change my mind. Yes, white noise is a great way to describe them – at a very high frequency. Agreed!

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  • avatar Mike Says:

    Reminds me of the summers of my childhood in Phoenix. Endless days of wandering from swimming pool to swimming pool, with fresh grilled burgers nearly every night. That sound was a constant and meant no school, no work, all fun. We used to collect their shedded skins and stick them on each other.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Mike,
    Thanks for sharing your childhood memories – and for thinking fondly of cicadas! I first discovered their exoskeletons stuck to the base of a tree when we lived in Phoenix. They’re fascinating to look at: hollow replicas of the real thing!

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  • avatar K Says:

    This blog is fascinating Melissa! I am opening my eyes wide instead of the sleepy vision I usually have. Your photo, writing, questioning skills are apparent. Keep it up. This is my favorite nature/thinking site!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, K. Glad you’re enjoying!

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