In mid-August, 2001, I was on a chartered boat off the coast of Turkey. On day one, as the sun began to set, I heard an intense buzzing sound that filled the entire inlet we had settled in for the night. I asked the locals what the sound was and they said they couldn’t hear anything. How was that possible? It was such a raucous continuous hum! I discovered the sound came from cicadas and oddly, by day two I was accustomed to their verboist noise just like the locals.
The powerful hum of thousands of cicadas buzzing and clicking is probably this insect’s most recognizable characteristic. They can get as loud as 108.9 decibels. What you’re hearing is the male cicadas rubbing membranes on their abdomens to attract a mate and each species makes a specific noise.They have short bodies, large compact eyes on their wide heads, and clear wings. Cicadas are also special because they live most of their lives underground. They hatch from their eggs, dig into the ground to suck liquid from plant roots for several years (sometimes up to 17 years), and then emerge as adults for relatively short periods of time, which is one reason these earnest males are creating heavy-metal love ballads for the ladies.
The most famous cicadas are the kind that emerges in enormous swarms every 17 years. These cicadas are predominantly found in North America. They grow and reach full-size underground, at which point they assume a state of suspended development for several years. Depending on conditions, these guys can also emerge either four years early or four years late, which creates variations in the population to form new broods and even species. Different broods, scattered across the Eastern United States, emerge in different years, which is why not all of the locusts with 17-year life spans come out at once, like many did in 2016.
There are 3,000 species of cicadas, and not all follow the same life cycle. Some cicada species can disappear from sight completely for many years, only to reappear at regular intervals. Other species do not share this behavior because although they also have life cycles that last several years, they do not all synchronize to come out all at once. These are called annuals, as some adults appear every year.
Due to their unique life cycles, cicadas have been a source of fascination throughout history to scientists and to ancient cultures. Many believe they represent good fortune. It’s easy to see why the ancient Chinese regarded these creatures as a symbol of rebirth, as they are obscured from sight most of the time, only to suddenly appear periodically in impressive numbers.
The Greeks also had a fascination with cicadas. The cicadas I heard in Tureky might be from the same species that inspired this collection of ancient Greek poems I found on Atlas Obscura.
Check out some of the Framed Cicadas we sell.