I was walking on a forest track in Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh with the sounds of the forest buzzing in my ear. While the normal insect sounds in the forest are soothing, I was now walking in a place where cicadas were calling. Cicadas are a really funky group of insects. They come in many different colours — from red to green, to black and even yellow. However, what sets them apart from every other insect is the loud sound they make. The entire forest seems to reverberate with the loud calls of male cicadas (female cicada’s usually don’t call), and as they all call together (and go silent together as well), the cicada chorus in any forest can be deafening!
Unlike other insects such as crickets that produce sound by rubbing their serrated legs against their wings, cicadas produce sound by using a different mechanism. They have a body part, which they alternately collapse and expand in order to produce a loud sound similar to the irritating ‘tik-tik’ sound made by a toy which I played with when I was young!
Cicadas make the loudest sound among all insects. In fact, the sound that cicadas make is so loud, that if they were to be placed close to our ears, our ear drums would get damaged. The smart cicadas have a system by which they seal off their own tympanum (or ear drum) in order not to deafen themselves!
In Latin, the word cicada means ‘tree cricket’. This is an apt description because most adult cicadas live on trees and the constant racket that they make is similar to that made by crickets.
Cicadas have lots of interesting stories around them. I often set up moth screens when I am in the forest to attract and observe moths. Cicadas are also attracted to light and they often land on my moth screen. They are quite irritating because when they get agitated, which is very often, they make a very loud noise and shake the moth screen, scaring away all the timid moths!
On one occasion in the northeast, I observed that the cicadas were landing on my screen and disappearing with alarming rapidity. This is not how they usually behave, for once they land on the moth screen, they sit there for a while. It was only after close observation that I discovered where the cicadas were disappearing. They ended up in the pockets of the camp staff who deep-fried the cicadas for a meal!
The camp staff informed me that they were very tasty, and offered me some. It was only after I scolded and forbade them to collect cicadas from the moth screen that sanity was restored to my moth screen and our campsite.
The other interesting part about cicadas is their life cycle. Most cicadas have life cycles that vary between three and five years, though some American species have 17-year life cycles.
For most of their lives, cicadas live underground or inside the bark of trees. It is only when they emerge as noisy adults that we get to see them in all their splendour.
Cicadas are found throughout the forested areas of India, so you can go cicada-searching in the forest located closest to you. The cicada chorus will let you know that they are around!
Feedback and queries are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org