Thursday, 03 September 2015 09:31

A fascinating nuisance

A cicada's 'exoskeleton' (outer shell) photo: Anne Krause A cicada's 'exoskeleton' (outer shell) photo: Anne Krause

When I first came to Cyprus, I used to capture them on video to share their ruckus with my amazed friends abroad: the cicadas that start their incredibly loud ‘concert’ in early summer.

Depending on the neighbourhood you live in, it really can be deafening. I happen to live in a cicada-invaded area, but am luckily on a top floor which has reduced the noise a lot.

Recently, I came across one that had seen its last day (they only get a month to live) and decided they are fascinating. Their intricate, mostly transparent wings with their pretty patterns and their striped bodies…

I posted a picture of one on Facebook and it turned out my friends did not know much about them either – except that they are noisy and live in trees and some of them vaguely recalled their name from fables and poems. So, in addition to my photography project I did some proper ‘research’.

In ancient Greek mythology, Tithonus eventually turns into a cicada after being granted immortality, but not eternal youth, by Zeus. Those of us who have studied French, may remember that in Fontaine’s fable ‘The Cicada and the Ant’, the cicada spends the summer singing while the ant stores away food, and finds herself without food when the weather turns bitter.

The cicada has, in fact, represented insouciance since classical antiquity – quite an unjustified reputation really, as its ‘song’ does seem more like hard work. They generally do go to sleep in the evening, but wake up before sunrise. The park where I go running appears to be housing even nocturnal ones.

I found out the ‘singing’ is actually a mating call produced by the males, not by rubbing together body parts like other ‘noisy insects’ do, but by contracting and relaxing muscles on their abdominal region to produce clicks.

Different species even produce their own distinctive mating songs and acoustic signals, ensuring that the song attracts only appropriate mates. To me that does make them more likeable – especially considering they live under ground as nymphs for up to 17 years, feeding on sap from roots to get to sing their song for only about a month. When they emerge from the ground, they shed their skin for one last time on a nearby plant.

After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig into which she deposits her eggs – several hundred of them. When they hatch after about 10 weeks, the newly hatched nymphs drop to the ground, where they burrow. And the cycle continues…

It turns out many people around the world actually eat cicadas – some even grilled on a spit. Maybe it’s the new souvlaki to make summer mornings quieter? I’d give that a pass, but will not be sad to find their song gone. And while not everyone seems to share my fascination with their life cycle, most people do consider them to be part of Cyprus summer. So I guess a cicada does make a summer.

Article as published in The Cyprus Weekly of August 28th 

Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

Email Me · Linked In · Twitter · Facebook