Week of September 10, 2023 – September 16, 2023
by Bridget Jones, Environmental Educator
As September begins, I’ve been noticing signs that fall is on the way: leaves are turning red and goldenrod is blooming in the fields. But alongside these early changes, there are reminders that summer is not over yet. All around us, insects fill the air with the sounds of late summer. It can be easy to let this music fade into the background, but it is worth paying attention to. Listening closely can give us a richer understanding of insects’ lives.
One of the easiest summer insect sounds to recognize is the call of cicadas: a loud, unmistakable rattle from the treetops. Although they are smaller than a hummingbird, male cicadas are able to reach incredible levels of volume because of their body structure. Cicadas “sing” by vibrating their tymbal organs, located on the side of the abdomen. The hollow abdomen acts as a resonating chamber, amplifying the sound. To make things even louder, cicadas often synchronize their calls, creating a deafening chorus.
When cicada songs recede, the world is filled with the quieter music of crickets and katydids. Unlike cicadas, crickets and katydids create sound by rubbing their wings together, a process called stridulation. Some of these insects sing continuously, creating a backdrop of sound; others emit short, repeated trills. While they may sound similar, subtle differences can help distinguish who is singing. Crickets sing at a lower pitch that is often described as musical, while many katydids emit a higher-pitch buzzing sound. By listening for these differences, we can pull meaning from the background noise and put together a more detailed picture of the ecosystem around us.
As the weather becomes cooler, the insect symphony will start to fade. Some insects will find shelter for the winter, while others die off, leaving the next generation behind to emerge in spring. However, while the warm weather lasts, there is still time to appreciate the sounds of late summer and the insects that make them.