Summer Whine

You spend years underground sucking on tree roots. And then, three to seven years after birth (accounts differ; species differ), you dig your way up out of the ground. How do you know when to do this? You’re in your fifth instar stage, by the way, when you do. Assuming you haven’t been concreted over, you crawl up a tree, probably the same one you’ve been living off of. There, you grasp hold on the bark and hey! presto-change-o! bust out of your nymph exoskeleton. Unfurl your wings, pump them up, harden your new exoskeleton. Then, get down to business: start looking for a mate. You’ve got about a month to live.

In the picture above, note the three ocelli, simple eyes, between the bulging compound eyes.

The males are the ones that make that hot summer sound, the crazy high-pitched buzzy whine, rising and falling above us in the trees. They rapidly vibrate stiff timbal membranes (in an alternating pattern) on their first abdominal segment; air sacs help to amplify the resulting high decibel in-and-out clicks. A maddening sound ~ I sometimes think that if locked in a room with nothing else to hear I would quickly go insane (hip-hop would do it faster, though) ~ but glorious, too, and the females, well, they think it’s damn sexy. Life, mighty life! Mate, lay your eggs in the trees and bushes; first stage nymphs drop down to the ground to burying themselves. See you in the future.

Or else birds eat you. I watched a house sparrow battle one recently. Five eyes are not always foolproof. Or big wasps paralyze and feed you to their young. Either way, you’re still part of the Great Recycling. Or you just die for reasons unknown — old age? — and fall down to the sidewalk where I find you.You can see the feeding beak here between the first set of legs. The mark of a true bug, that. The powdery white is a waxy build-up, but I’m not sure what function it serves. This is a male. Are those plate like structures skirting over the abdominal segments the timbals? (See below for side-by-side with a female specimen I found a few years ago). I sexed these with this page from the University of Michigan.

Dog-day cicada, Tibicen canicularis, I think, although the Tibicen genus looks confusing (T. linne, T. pruinosus, T. winnemana). 2″ long x 1/2″ wide. Found on Pacific Street, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Even though these spend years in their underground nymph stages, they are considered an annual cicada species because a different generation or brood emerges each summer. The periodic cicadas, meanwhile, spend 13 or 17 years underground (!); they are distinguished by their bright red eyes, dark bodies, and sudden omnipresence. Locally, our area is scheduled for emergences in 2013 (Brood II) and the big year, 2021 (“The Great Eastern Brood,” Brood X).
Female on left, male on right. She’s bigger, which means you can also more readily see the two pairs of wings. I don’t know if these are the same or different species.
All my posts on cicadas and their killers.

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