A vociferous buzz is radiating throughout parts of Alabama and making the news. From the brilliant first light of day to the still and dark of night, a serenade is being sung – a mating call thirteen years in the making. Millions of cicadas have come up from their underground bedrooms after completing a very long incubation period. Unlike the annual cicada, this specific variety, labeled ‘Brood XIX,’ open their red-eyes, shed their skin, spread their wings, sing their song, eventually mate, and, like a Greek tragedy of the genus Tibicen kind, meet their death. All within a span of about two months.
There is no proper English word for the cicada. The Classical Greek term is tettix and the Modern Greekis tzitzikas. The modern English term is derived from the Latin cicada meaning “buzzer.’ Like the Greek variations, the name is onomatopoeic. In other words, it is an imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent – in this case the buzzing noise made when the male cicada vibrates certain membranes, or tymbals on its body – emitting a ‘love song’ that, to the ears of other species, sounds like a droning buzz. This process is called stridulation.
Stridulation is from the Latin stridulus meaning, “giving a shrill sound, creaking.”
The adult cicada is called an imago, the Latin term for “image.” Imago is also defined as “an idealized concept of a loved one, formed in childhood and retained unaltered in adult life.” A cicada nymph transforms into an imago by leaving its exoskeleton shell, a process called molting. In addition to their lovesick cry, the shell left behind after molting is the second most recognized signifier of cicadas.
As lovely as the concept is, those suckers can drive a person mad with their “buzzing” which in no way has an onomatapoetic name derivation. And they leave enormous holes in the ground as they emerge from their “bedrooms.” Disgusting critters. They’re huge beetles get up in the trees and whine for a month or so. Ugh. They appear on schedule in the DelMarVa area (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia + Wasington DC) and drive humans and their pets crazy with their incessang 24/7 racket.
When I was a little girl, I used to climb up on our mulberry tree and catch cicadas. I got pretty good at sneaking up behind them and catching them before they flew away. I always let them go later. i also used to collect the pupae shells that they left behind because I thought they were pretty cool. The sounds that they made always reminded me of summer. I’d rather listen to cicadas then the “coqui frogs” that we have here on the Big Island of Hawaii. They only come out at night. Some places have so many frogs and the noise level is so loud that you can’t even carry on a conversation in your house! I’m glad that the ones I hear are still too far away to make a disturbance.
I find the noise quite soothing and you can’t think of lazy, summer afternoons without their song. Did you know many animals enjoy them as snacks and that they are quite nutricious? Some people eat them and they are not half bad. They make great fish bait too.
Etymology not entomology. Sheesh!
I grew up in southern WV and the folks there called them the seventeen year locust. I think they were active there in2007.
I just stand in my backyard with a baseball bat and start swinging. So far, I’ve hit 26 singles, 17, doubles, 4 triples, and 8 homers (and a few fouls…okay, a lot of fouls).
Here in Moulton Alabama were I live they have taken over and get in carports and even in your house when you open the door! wereever
they start making noise here comes a bunch of them! They can be a pest if they come around your living ouarters! Benn here about two weeks now and getting larger bunches each day.The noise drive’s you crazy when there are thousands of them!
Magicicadas (both teneral and fully developed). Photo by Arthur D. Guilani
Cicada prior to final molt
Newly molted Brood XIIIPeriodical cicadas are grouped into 30 broods, based on the year they emerge. Broods are numbered using Roman numerals; broods I–XVII are the seventeen-year cicadas, while Broods XVIII–XXX are the thirteen-year cicadas. Some broods are known not to exist, but they are retained in the numbering scheme for convenience. This scheme was put forth by C.L. Marlatt in his classic study of 1907. Since then the actual number of broods has been recognized as 15 rather than 30.
I want to see it!!!
What do they mean, “there’s no proper English word for cicada?” What language is cicada? Just because a word is derived from Latin doesn’t mean it isn’t proper English.
@Betty and Joseph-
Well said. As a kid, I always played with them too. I also find their song therapeutic, though I grew up in a wooded setting with many noisy insects. Now, living nearer to a city, I still miss that chorus at night…
it looks creepy… i really hate insects ! especially roaches.. eeewww.. yuck !!
Down here in the South of France they are known as Cigales. They have started about a month early this year. I’m sure the sound itself raises the temperature.
Oui, recall the cyclical crunching of cicada skins in the forest.
I believe the year’s that they emerge are generally prime numbers.
(7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23 etc…)
This is an evolutionary phenomena which generally defends them from predators, which are less likely to have a peak in a coincidental year. No other cycle can coincide with a prime number, other than a cycle based on that prime number – ain’t nature fantastic!
They are disgusting and they screech when you sweep them away, so you can only kill them to stop the terror…the urban areas of tennessee are covered with them…i know they are harmless but i can’t go out side without them flyng into me and it makes me a little nervous…i wish they would just become extinct or something they serve no purpose but to gross me out.
@ Janet (the first commenter),
After a desolate absence for an enormously long time period (longer than the entire lifespan of most dogs), why in the world would you cringe in disgust rather than be awestruck to even be considered worthy and fortunate enough to witness this true marvel of the Creation?
As thirteen long years pass by in your spoiled and sheltered life, an incredible marvel giving testimony of the awesome Creating power of God, miraculously springs forth to audaciously share this wondrous planet with you for the duration of just a few short weeks, and send you spiraling into an annoyed disgust and anger? Really? Are you indeed this imperious to the marvelous wonders natural world around you?
Is it of a truth that you have such an enabled and haughty stature on this earth that you shudder the thought of sharing ‘your’ world for such a tiny sliver of time in your spoon-fed life with these infringing and “disgusting” creatures?
I sympathize with your entitlement rooted anger. It is with great empathy for one of the true elite within our race of humankind that I say… “How dare they!”
I don’t know if it’s the XIX group, but the cicadas are definitely alive and buzzing like crazy here in parts of Raleigh, North Carolina!
As migrant, I noticed that most of the people who love the cicadas (include myself in that group) have either not experienced them or have left the area where they populate. I too find many things that Dominicans(Dominican Republic) declare annoying quaint. I love the love-story withing the science. Kudos to dictionary.com another home run!
LOL.i totally hate bugs and all sorts od insects
This is the best picture of a cicada that I’ve seen! These flying beasts (lil boogers!) will make you do an unwanted strip tease for the public!
I don’t know much about cicada but they’r noisy
A cool thing about these incubation cycles is that they are in prime numbers – 13 years, 17 years. Some have 11 year cycles. This reduces predators between species and allows the species to survive. I guess through evolution, if they had the same cycle they would eat each other up and not survive. Prime numbers strike again
I love bugs!!!!!!! Mostly spiders…..as long as they are in a cage with a lid.
Let em live! But enjoy them as snacks too, becaue they are quite delicious!
@Cyberquill — I know, right? But whatever. Everyone makes mistakes.
@Carlitos, @Joseph — OH MY GOD. Ew, ew, and more ew. Are you guys just making this stuff up, have you ever really heard cicadas? Their “song” is not a song unless you are a cicada yourself (like the article said) otherwise it’s just constant, droning buzzing.
@Joseph specifically — Yes, actually, I CAN think of lazy summer afternoons without their relentless monotone, and in fact I prefer to; and I am not alone in feeling that way.
@Gerrard — Many people find it worth missing. These cicadas are incredibly stupid and will fly straight into people, which is quite disgusting, and they completely plague any place they’re in, coming out in the thousands, so they often have to make room for themselves in humans’ residencies. Maybe you like that kind of thing, and if so, I hope you can find somewhere in cicada-infested territory this cicada season. But really … eurgh.
@Betty — Wow … what an amazing talent to have, being able to sneak up on cicadas. Was that helpful on your resume?
@Joseph R Lyell — I know, right? I’ve never been to Moulton but I know how bad it can get!
@Brenden — Hah, way to go! Who says sports are awkward in cicada season? They’re more fun! XD
hi there, im old greg i have a man
i hate them ugy stupid bugs they make to much racket i would like it better without them
i hate bugs to but for some strange reason i like spiders?
oops meant james
When I was a child we would visit relatives in Oklahoma. That always involved many “hunting trips.” I was the Great White Hunter killing cicadas right and left. If I didn’t shoot them I would catch them, play with them then let them go right back to their buzzing. Good times!
Cool down Cyberquill.
The word that best describe this insect is in latin. No english term was made for it.
Latin was not as popular as english even before because latin was the universal language of the intelllectuals (physicians, scientists, lawmakers, etc…). Popular doesn’t mean superior!
When you become successful or perhaps popular, make a proper english name for it! For the mean time, try not to develop a vertigo.
My Goodness!!! They come every SEVENTEEN years!!
I live in Brazil, where nature is beautiful in many aspects and overwhelming in some others. Cicadas or “cigarras” for exemplo, they climbe up from their underground hole every single summer, driving everyone crazy for a moth with their noise and, since they feed on tree roots, causing losses for the agriculture. So, my advice for you guys from US is: don’t complain, it could get worse if you, like us, would have this little critures every single year in your tree backyard.
why ya’ll put me out there lik that??????????????????????
Like why really
Interesting post, thanks. I’m glad we don’t have those in this country though!
Hey, U know what..?? It just might taste good..!! Hellow..Man Vs Wild team..??? (LOL).
Lovely creatures, and to those who hate insects, FYI, you’re just another resident of this planet. If you hate them, fly somewhere far from earth if you can, if you can’t them deal with it.
Oh man. THose things look beastly. I wouldn’t mind going down there to see them and hear there song, though. I mean, I think I would rather deal with these than the coqui frogs down in Puerto Rico. THose things are quite noisy, and very annoying. But, I guess I can see where people are comming from if you aren’t used to dealing with loud noises 24/7.
Honestly, I’d rather have cicadas all over the place for two months than cockroaches….
Spanish name for cicada is Chicharas just thought I should share!
It is actually quite cool; and the ruby-eyed ones seem especially beautifully colored, much more than the ‘olive-drab’ variety.
One question- are the wings of a cicada harmful or poisonous in any way if swallowed? someone said that it was so, but I had the inkling that it was a fable; like the thing about how Daddy-Long-Legs are fatally poisonous and cannot bite people.
Awesome! I would love to take a vacation where they inhabit so I could experience them for myself. I have seen them many times on documentaries, illustrating how they are vital to an ecosystem’s nutrition. People may think I’m crazy, but I greatly admire Nature’s creations – no matter how numerous or noisy they are.
Does anyone know of a place where I can escape from the cicadas?
every time i hear them i want to just drop everything and lay on my hammock all day
The correct term should be: “onomatopoieia” from greek “onomatopoiein” (= to make a name), instead of “onomatopoeia”.
As for Jill, the nature lover (except mosquitoes?), if your conscious life so far is shorter than the 17-year cicada life cycle, you may still experience the real thing where you live. The year before last was a cicada year in Wisconsin and first conscious cicada encountre for our 17yo grandchild. A sight to be seen and a sound to be heard everywhere. Love and nurture nature, like you seem to, with just a few (notable) exceptions (e.g.v.s.).
to “Book Beater”
enTOmology is the study of bugs…if your going to be a smart-ass, do it right?
Jill, I’ve lived through them three times. I live in Northern Virginia. As long as you spend time in an established, old-growth area, you’ll be able to enjoy them by the millions!! Truly amazing. I had never heard of the 13 year cicada, but the next time the 17 year cicadas come out will not be until 2021; the last time being 2004. You need to visit an old-growth area, because they burrow down (I don’t know… ) like 8 to 10 feet and if construction has torn the ground up, the poor cicadas go too.
When I was young, there were so many cicadas that I stepped on some every time I took a step. My brothers and sisters and I did catch them and put them in jars, but we ran out of jars.
Ha. Just Wiki’d it. More like one foot underground. Even more susceptible to construction.
@ Janet, u made me laugh, just a guess, u really don’t like cicadas do u? lol, I lived in DC so i know all too well those damn things, if i remember correctly, they flew in face a couple times, blah! well i guess i wouldn’t be too graceful either if i was sleeping for coutless years and some circadian (related term?) rhythm woke me up…
LOL @ Brenden, for knockin them poor cicadas outta the air ;(
@ jim, yes nature is fantastic
The familiar stridulation of cicadas has been the sign of high summer as long as I can remember. It meant hot, muggy days with no school to interrupt childhood fun. It meant visits to far-off cousins and vacations in the Ozarks so my dad could get his fill of fishing and I could investigate the local fauna and flora (which inevitably included poison ivy). Cicadas may drive adults nuts, but they are as essential to real summer as lightning bugs and lemonade.
omg rofl XD stupid cicadas
I don’t meant to brag, but I knew that before I saw the answer. Because I read a book called cicada summer
, but cool
Way to go, Jill!
Omg I could go for some Oj right now
I love walking outside my house in the summer to hear the cicadas. Where I’m from… a small town in South central Kansas, we called em Locusts. Either way, they make the summer complete along with lakes and fishing. Me being a girl, I don’t find them discusting, I just don’t like they way they feel when they smack into you somewhere LOL!!! I do love how they leave their shell behind for me to grab and chase my little sisters around with! They run and scream and I would get yelled at lol! I was 12 at the time, they were 4 and 5. Good times, good times!
Attack of the mutant cicadas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Mood of the Brood is what’s good for the wood.
@Cyberquill – They mean there is no proper English term. It’s very much like “Deja vu” – a French term commonly used in the English language. There is no English word or short phrase that describes that sensation, so we use the French term. The same applies with the Cicada.
The little bugers show up to some exent almot every year for the little buggers cnnot count to seventeen or to thirteen and come out whenever they feel like mit. We called them 17-year Locusts for lack of a better name and we used to pick the dried shells off the trees as ornaments. We pinched the backs slighly nd put them on our noses where they would sit all day if you did not pull them off. . They were not too popular as the noise iriated some adults and they made lousy fishbai. Since I am now quite old, I hear them singing in my ears all the time. Oldtimer.
Whatever mod removed the post I put here had no right. Whoever you are you remind me of those kids in high school who attempted to boss people around and became a cop so they could keep that “power”.
@Trevor the Awesome,
I’ve had that happen. They are ‘moderating’ our freedom of speech in my opnion. It must be a truth they’ve deleted from you Trevor am I right?
all you bug lovers out there
Madagascar hissing cockroaches make great pets, “cause they don’t fly, and they are pretty chill most of the time
spiders are cool too
especially since they produce a silk stronger than steel
eating them is horrid though, to any normal person
but it’s understandable if you’re hungry
Just remember when man fell in the garden of Eden the earth became cursed. These insideous insects are a reminder of it being cursed. Just like any disease caused by the sin of mankind.
We are having a cicada-festival in St. Louis and have been for several weeks, but I’m not sure if this is the same brood as are visiting further south. Anyone know for sure?
well they are great target practice!!:D