Cicada Summer

January 3, 2011 at 6:37 am | Posted in Nature | 2 Comments
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Black Prince cicada on spotted gum

Empty cicada shell on tree
I heard a squawk, a bit like a chook being strangled, and looked up into the tree. An obviously young kookaburra hopped about on a branch, calling to its parent. Then I heard a familiar chuckle, coming from the next tree. The adult kooka had a large black cicada in its beak, but didn’t fly across to give it to the youngster. It chuckled again, and I realised it was calling for its baby to fly over for it.

The young one was the same size as its parent, and I marvelled at the speed that they grow. It hopped up and down a couple of times, getting up the courage to make the leap. The parent called again and the youngster took off. It flew a little unsteadily and landed right next to the adult, wobbling a little It then grabbed the live cicada, lifted its head and swallowed it whole. This was a really great incentive for the youngster to practice its flying. The kookas have done well this year; a veritable feast of cicadas has ensured many well-fed young.

The cicadas have all been Black Princes; no Greengrocers or Double Drummers among them. They have been plentiful and the noise they make is often so deafening that people have to almost shout to hear what someone is saying, even when standing beside them. It is the males that create this noise by vibrating their tymbals, drum-like organs found on their abdomens, to attract a female. That penetrating noise lets you know it really is summer, in light to heavily wooded parts of Australia – and we have plenty of trees where we live.

One day before Christmas, as I went out our back door, I saw something drop from the top of one of our large spotted gums. It was a cicada. When I looked more closely, I could see that the pale smooth new surface of the tree trunk was spotted all over with the black insects, gripping the bark with their claws. As I walked past, to get to the clothesline, some took off and flew all around and above me. I noticed quite a number on the ground, dead and dying. The ants had been at most of them, and only the hard shell of their heads, complete with popping eyes, and their brittle, clear, black-laced wings remained. They had mated and died; the final part of their life cycle completed.

It was only a few short weeks since they had emerged from the ground as nymphs in their original brown protective shells. The nymphs had lived for anything up to seven years underground, feeding on sap from tree roots. Then, something tells them it is time to emerge to mate. They clamber up a tree or post and shed their shell casings. These look like empty insect-shaped armoured tanks, clinging to tree trunks. They are no longer of use, and the cicadas that emerge take to the air for that last short, burst of life. 

(c)  Linda Visman

03 January 2011

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2 Comments »

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  1. I’ve never seen cicadas, but heard about them, and read of them in fiction stories. They look a bit like what we call Christmas Beetles, because they start singing late September through to December/early January here.

  2. These insects certainly make their presence felt.


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