Have you ever wondered about the constant buzzing noise on Hilton Head?
It lasts all day and all night throughout our summer months. They are Cicadas, an annual insect that emerges throughout the South. Their brilliant acoustics bring our Lowcountry summers to life.
The Cicada is an insect in the Hemiptera order, which is the family of true bugs. More specifically, it is in the genus of Tibicen, which is an annual Cicada.
The life cycle of a Cicada begins in tree branches, where the mother can deposit several hundred eggs.
After the newborn nymphs are born, they drop to the ground where they burrow into the substrate. The Nymphs have very strong legs for digging and will live one to eight feet underground.
Feeding off of tree roots for the first 2 to 3 years of their lives, once they are ready to emerge and the temperature is right (usually about 80 degrees Fahrenheit), they dig their way to the surface. The Nymphs then shed their skin in a process called molting and emerge out of their new skin as adults. This exoskeleton can commonly be seen latched onto trees around the Lowcountry. The Cicadas will then live for another year or two, in an effort to reproduce as much as possible.
The male Cicada is the noisiest of the bunch!
The purpose of all their racket is to attract females. The noise is made by a tymbal, located on the side of the Cicada’s abdominals. The contraction and relaxation of the tymbal muscles creates clicking noises. The majority of the abdominal section of the Cicada is hollow, creating a great area for acoustics. This rapid clicking noise can then reverberate within the abdominals to create the humming noise we so commonly hear.
The Cicada will also make a distress call, that has a much higher pitch than its mating call. This is usually sounded when the Cicada is under attack. Most commonly they are eaten by birds and will create the high-pitched distress call, when being pecked off a tree.
There are 2,500 species of Cicadas around the world, most of which are periodical.
They live on a specifically timed life cycle, such as 13-year or 17-year cycles. This means that in one place all the members of a specific Cicada population develop at the same time. They all hatch at the same time, burrow into the ground at the same time and emerge together within a 13- or 17-year span.
While South Carolina has Annual Cicadas that enliven our summers, we also have Periodical Cicadas.
This year, 2011, is the emergence of a specific 17-year cycle Cicada – the Magicicada, Brood 19. These special Brood 19s will have red eyes and lighter-toned bodies of yellow and orange, unlike our usually black-colored Cicadas. They will begin to emerge in June and continue to flood our forests for much of the summer.
This type of periodical Cicada may be familiar to many people around the United States who suffer from plagues of these insects in the summer months. Referred to as Locust in Northern and Midwestern states, Cicadas and Locust are very different creatures all together.
A Locust comes from the order Orthoptera which is the order of Grasshoppers, Crickets and Katydids.
The Locust form is a reference to the swarming phase of a Short-Horned Grasshopper. In the right conditions, these Grasshoppers can reproduce very quickly and can travel great distances, destroying crops and creating a large disturbance in rural areas. This type of great emergence is similar to the periodical lifestyles of some Cicadas.
By Master Naturalist Kathleen McMenamin
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