Our outings lately have sounded like something from a season of the X-File. A couple of weeks ago we went in search of Blue Ghosts, and last night we went in search of Brood XIX of the thirteen-year cicadas.
I had heard these insects last Saturday on my kayaking trip on Lake Greenwood. The noise was amazing and was constant. It sounded more like the phasers from the original Star Trek series.
Hearing me talk about them, and hearing and reading about them on the news, both Laura and her mother wanted to find these things. So, late yesterday afternoon before it got dark we went in search of them.
These cyclical cicadas are in the genus magicicada, which I think is appropriate. They magically appear after a very long absence. The magicadas are divided into “broods” depending on the year that they emerge. The “Great Southern Brood”, also known as Brood XIX, is the one that is emerging this year.
The 13 year cicadas attempt to overwhelm evolution with numbers. After birth they burrow into the ground where they remain during the majority of their lives. After 13 years they emerge for one last hell of a party. The sheer numbers mean that predators can’t eliminate the entire brood, so enough survive to reproduce and start the cycle all over again.
We hadn’t heard any cicadas in the Greenville area, so I knew we had to go further south. I called my sister, Glynda, to see if they had made it as far as Gray Court, but they had not. She did say that my sister, Beth, had them so loud in Greenwood that it was hard for her to talk on the phone. I gave Beth a call, and she took her phone outside to show us how load they were. It was impressive. Unfortunately, it also meant that we would have to drive that far.
We kept spot-checking all along Augusta Road just in case. It wasn’t until we had crossed the Saluda River at Ware Shoals that we began to hear them. We didn’t even have to roll down the windows – they were that loud.
We already knew that the cicadas preferred high, sunlit branches, and that they preferred hardwoods to pine. We had a time limit because at dusk they would start to get quiet. I didn’t want to drive much further.
I drove us around to where we had launched the kayaks last week, thinking it might be a bit more isolated, and it turned out to be an OK spot. However, on around the corner we got an even better chance to hear them. I pulled off the road and turned off the car.
The sound wasn’t exactly what I remembered. The phaser sound was there, but it had faded into the background. More prominent was a buzzing/hissing sound. According to Magicicada.org, the cicadas produce different sounds according to the insect’s behavior. There are alarm sounds, calling sounds, and courting sounds.
I had my iPod with a microphone attached so I could record them. Here’s a bit of what I captured…
The clicking sound was the car’s engine cooling after having been shut off.
Compare that recording to this one of another brood recorded in Princeton in 2004…
The insects seemed to be everywhere, but they only sang in specific areas. Even when we stopped for dinner on the developed Highway 72 bypass in Greenwood, cicadas were flying everywhere. Several had been stepped on and could be found on the sidewalk leading into the restaurant. However, the sounds could really only be heard in wooded areas.
It was cool seeing and hearing the cicadas, but when we got home we realized that we have just as much noise in our own backyard every evening. I took the iPod out on the deck and recorded this clip of frogs and other critters out on our lake…
Even this morning when I got up the dawn chorus was enough to rival our cicada friends.
I’m just happy that we live in an area where the sounds of nature can compete with the sounds of traffic, and in this case, win out.