How Do Cicadas Make So Much Noise?

How Do Cicadas Make So Much Noise How Do Cicadas Make So Much Noise

How do cicadas make so much noise? If you’ve ever been near a swarm of cicadas, you’ve probably asked yourself this very question. These intriguing insects are often recognized by their distinctive and deafening chorus, which can reach up to 100 decibels—comparable to a motorcycle’s roar. But what is it about cicadas that allows them to create such an extraordinary racket?

This phenomenon not only captures the curiosity of nature enthusiasts but also baffles those who experience it. Cicadas’ remarkable sound production is a mix of biological ingenuity and evolutionary strategy. In this post, we’ll unravel the science behind this natural symphony, exploring how cicadas produce their infamous noise and why they do it. Whether you’re a backyard naturalist or just someone who’s had their sleep disrupted by these vocal bugs, understanding the mechanics of cicada calls will deepen your appreciation for these fascinating insects.

01. What is a Cicada?

Cicadas are fascinating insects that have intrigued humans for centuries. Known for their loud and often incessant “singing,” these creatures are more than just a summer soundtrack. Cicadas belong to the superfamily Cicadoidea, a large group of insects within the order Hemiptera, which also includes aphids and leafhoppers. Found all over the world, cicadas are particularly famous in North America for their periodic mass emergences after spending years underground.

a. How do cicadas make their noise?

Cicadas are perhaps best known for the deafening noise they produce. Male cicadas create this sound to attract females. But how do they do it? They produce the noise through a specialized structure known as a tymbal, located on their abdomens.

  • Tymbals: These are drum-like structures that can be rapidly vibrated by muscles.

  • Frequency: The rapid contraction and relaxation of these muscles cause the tymbals to buckle in and out, creating the characteristic clicking sound, which is then amplified by their mostly hollow abdomens.

  • Volume: Cicada songs can reach up to 100 decibels, which is comparable to the sound of a motorcycle.

If you want to learn more about how cicadas produce their loud calls, you might find this National Geographic article about cicadas quite enlightening.

b. What Is a Cicada’s Life Span?

The life span of a cicada can be quite the paradox. Some cicadas, known as annual cicadas, appear every year. However, the magic really happens with periodical cicadas, which have one of the longest life cycles known in the insect world.

  • Annual Cicadas: These cicadas have a life cycle that lasts around 2 to 5 years, but different generations overlap, so some adults appear every year.

  • Periodical Cicadas: These are the ones that capture headlines. They have extraordinary life cycles of either 13 or 17 years. They spend most of this time underground as nymphs, feeding on tree root sap. When they finally emerge, it’s a sight to behold, as millions of cicadas come out simultaneously.

For deeper insights into cicada life spans, take a look at the National Wildlife Federation page on Periodical Cicadas.

c. Do Cicadas Help or Harm?

Cicadas can be both beneficial and problematic, depending on how you look at them.


  • Soil Aeration: As nymphs, their burrowing can help aerate the soil.

  • Nutrient Cycling: When cicadas die, their bodies decompose and provide a significant nutrient boom for the ecosystem.

  • Predator Food: They provide food for a variety of predators, including birds, mammals, and other insects.

Potential Issues:

  • Tree Damage: Female cicadas lay their eggs in branches, which can cause damage to young or small trees.

  • Noise Pollution: The cacophony can be overwhelming and disruptive to human activities.

For more nuanced perspectives on the impact of cicadas, this University of Wisconsin-La Crosse article on Cicadas 2024 offers comprehensive insights.

Understanding cicadas better can deepen your appreciation for these remarkable insects, whether you’re fascinated by their life cycles or occasionally annoyed by their loud songs.

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02. The Science Behind Cicada Noise Production

Understanding how cicadas create their incredible noise involves looking deeply at their unique anatomy. Their distinct sound production sets them apart in the insect world and is a marvel of natural engineering.

a. How loud can cicadas get?

Cicadas are among the loudest insects on the planet. The noise they produce can reach levels of up to 100 decibels, which is similar to the sound of a motorcycle or a chainsaw. But what makes their concert so overwhelming? The answer lies in their biological design, which includes specialized structures that maximize sound production and projection.

b. The Tymbal Organ

The core of a cicada’s noise production is the tymbal organ. Located on the sides of a cicada’s abdomen, this organ is made up of ribbed membranes that cicadas can vibrate rapidly. When the cicada contracts and relaxes the muscles around the tymbals, these membranes buckle inwards and then snap back. This action is incredibly fast and is the key to the cicada’s loud clicking sound.

Structure and Function

  • Ribbed membranes: The tymbal consists of a series of ribs made from a hardened material. When muscles pull on these ribs, they buckle in and create a noise.

  • Muscle Contraction: The rapid contraction and relaxation of these muscles cause the tymbals to buckle in and out swiftly. This creates repeated clicks that blend into the loud, continuous noise we hear.

  • Speed: These vibrations can happen hundreds of times per second, producing a very loud and distinctive sound.

For those looking for a deeper dive into the secrets of cicada sounds, this article offers a comprehensive look at how the tymbal organ plays a central role in their noise production.

c. Role of Abdominal Air Sacs

Beyond the tymbal organ, cicadas have another trick up their sleeve: abdominal air sacs. These air sacs function much like the soundboard of a guitar, helping to amplify the sound produced by the tymbal organ.

Amplification Mechanism

  • Soundboard Effect: The hollow spaces within their abdomens act like echo chambers. Just as the body of a guitar amplifies the vibrations of its strings, the air sacs in cicadas’ abdomens amplify the vibrations from the tymbal organ.

  • Resonance: The structure of these air sacs allows them to resonate with the sound, making it much louder and giving it that piercing quality.

  • Volume Boost: By increasing the volume and intensity of the clicks, these air sacs ensure that the cicada’s call can be heard across great distances. This is crucial for attracting mates in dense forest environments.

For more insight into how cicadas’ unique anatomy helps them produce their loud calls, you might want to check out this detailed Science Daily article.

Understanding these fascinating mechanisms not only sheds light on the natural world but also helps us appreciate the evolutionary ingenuity of these remarkable insects.

How Do Cicadas Make So Much Noise

03. Why Do Cicadas Make Noise?

Cicadas are known for the loud noises they make during certain times of the year. But have you ever wondered why they create such a racket? Their noise serves essential purposes that are vital for their survival and reproduction. Let’s explore the reasons behind their noisy behavior.

a. Mating Calls

Cicadas make noise primarily as a form of communication, especially when it comes to mating. Male cicadas produce loud sounds to attract female cicadas for mating. These mating calls are crucial because they help males announce their presence and readiness to mate.

  • Attracting FemalesMale cicadas have specialized structures called tymbals that they use to produce their characteristic sound. They rapidly contract and relax muscles attached to these tymbals, causing them to click and create a loud noise. This calling is similar to how birds sing to attract mates.

  • Species-Specific Calls: Each species of cicada has its unique mating call. This ensures that females can identify and find males of the same species. The loudness and distinctiveness of the call make it easier for females to locate interested males, even amidst a crowded environment.

Imagine being at a big concert and trying to find your friend by yelling their name. The louder and clearer you can call, the more likely your friend will hear you amidst the noise. That’s pretty much what male cicadas are doing to attract female cicadas!

For more insights into how and why male cicadas produce these sounds, you might find this article very informative.

b. Communication and Chorusing

Another fascinating aspect of cicada noise is the phenomenon of chorusing. This is when cicadas synchronize their calls, creating a loud and continuous sound.

  • Synchronization: When male cicadas group together and synchronize their calls, it’s called chorusing. This collective noise-making serves multiple purposes. Firstly, it creates a louder combined call, making it easier for females to hear them from a distance.

  • Safety in Numbers: Chorusing is also significant for their survival. By all making noise together, it can overwhelm predators. It’s a bit like a group of friends singing together louder so that a nearby wolf can’t pick out just one of them to hunt.

  • Behavioral Coordination: This synchrony in calling also helps males coordinate their behavior. It can indicate the presence of rivals and help males determine when to call louder or change their location to find an optimal spot for attracting a mate.

In essence, cicadas utilize chorusing as a strategy to ensure they are heard, stay safe, and efficiently attract mates.

For deeper insights into the meaning and importance of cicada chorusing, you can read up more in this comprehensive article.

Understanding why cicadas make noise helps us appreciate the complexity of their behavior and the intricacies of their survival strategies. From attracting mates to coordinating communal calls, the noise they produce is essential for their lifecycle.

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04. Variations in Cicada Sounds

Not all cicadas sound the same. Just as humans have different accents and voices, cicada species produce distinct sounds that play crucial roles in their survival and reproduction.

a. Species-Specific Sounds

Different species of cicadas produce unique sounds to attract mates and communicate. These variations are not random; they have evolved to help each species thrive.

  • Tymbal Differences: Each species has slightly different tymbals, the drum-like organs responsible for their sound. This structural difference results in variations in pitch, rhythm, and volume of the calls.

  • Mating Calls: Species-specific sounds ensure that females can find and recognize males of their own species. For example, the Magicicada cassini produces a high-pitched noise with numerous clicks followed by a buzz, while Magicicada septendecim has a more melodious tone.

  • Predator Avoidance: By having distinct calls, cicadas can avoid attracting predators that may hone in on a particular frequency.

b. Environmental Influences

The environment plays a significant role in shaping the sounds cicadas make. Factors like temperature, habitat, and even time of day can influence their calls.

  • Temperature: Cicadas are cold-blooded, so their activity is highly dependent on the temperature. On warm days, their muscles contract faster, leading to higher-pitched and more frequent calls. On cooler days, their calls might be slower and less intense. More insights can be found in this detailed explanation.

  • Habitat: The type of vegetation and landscape can amplify or dampen cicada sounds. In dense forests, the calls might echo, while in open fields, the sound can travel further without obstruction.

  • Time of Day: Cicadas typically call during the heat of the day when they are most active. However, some species adapt their calling times based on the presence of predators or competition from other species.

Understanding these factors helps explain why a cicada chorus might sound different from one place to another or from one time to another. For more on the environmental influences on cicada sounds, check out this comprehensive guide.

These variations and influences show the complex web of factors that contribute to the symphony of sounds we hear from cicadas. Whether it’s the species-specific calls or the environmental adaptations, each aspect plays a role in the fascinating world of cicada communication.

How Do Cicadas Make So Much Noise

05. Human Interaction and Impact

Humans have a significant impact on cicada populations and their noise production. Our activities can alter their natural habitats, affect their life cycles, and even influence their cultural significance. This section explores these interactions and their broader implications.

a. Habitat Destruction and Urbanization

One of the major ways humans affect cicadas is through habitat destruction and urbanization. Cicadas rely on specific environments to thrive, especially wooded areas where they can feed on tree roots during their nymph stages.

  • Deforestation: Cutting down trees for agriculture, urban development, or other purposes can reduce cicada populations. Without their natural habitat, cicadas struggle to survive and reproduce.

  • Urban Sprawl: Expanding cities mean more buildings and less green space. Urban areas often have fewer trees, limiting the places where cicadas can lay their eggs and find food.

Urbanization can significantly impact cicada populations. For more information on how deforestation and urban sprawl affect cicadas, check out this Nature Conservancy article.

b. Pesticides and Pollution

The use of pesticides and the presence of pollution also pose threats to cicadas. These chemicals can be harmful to these insects at various stages of their life cycle.

  • Pesticides: Insecticides used to control pests in agricultural areas can inadvertently kill cicadas. These chemicals don’t distinguish between harmful pests and beneficial insects.

  • Pollution: Air and water pollution can damage cicada habitats and reduce their chances of survival. Polluted environments may not support the plant life that cicadas depend on, leading to lower populations.

For a deeper understanding of how pollution and pesticides impact cicadas, read this US National Science Foundation article.

c. Cultural Significance and Folklore

Cicadas have held a special place in human culture and folklore for centuries. Different societies have various beliefs and traditions surrounding these noisy insects.

  • Symbolism: In many cultures, cicadas symbolize rebirth and immortality due to their long life cycles and dramatic emergence. For instance, in ancient China, cicadas were seen as symbols of resurrection.

  • Folklore: Stories and myths about cicadas abound. In Japan, they are often featured in poetry and art as symbols of summer and the transient nature of life.

These cultural aspects add a rich layer to our understanding of cicadas. For more on the cultural significance of cicadas, this Biologos article provides fascinating insights.

d. Noise Pollution and Public Reaction

The loud noise cicadas produce can be both a source of fascination and irritation for humans. This dual nature often leads to varied public reactions.

  • Hearing Loss ConcernsCicada noise can reach up to 115 decibels, potentially harmful to human ears, especially for those with sound sensitivities. Some 5.5 million Americans with sensory sensitivities find cicada noises overwhelming.

  • Public Fascination: Despite the noise, many people are intrigued by cicadas. Their predictable emergence cycles and loud calls draw attention from scientists and nature enthusiasts alike.

For those sensitive to loud noises, Yale School of Public Health provides useful information on managing cicada noise.

Understanding the interaction between humans and cicadas offers insights into how our actions can shape the natural world. Whether it’s through habitat destruction, cultural appreciation, or noise sensitivity, our impact on cicadas is profound and multifaceted.

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06. Are Cicadas Louder at Certain Times?

Many people notice that cicadas seem to be louder at specific times of the day. Is this true, and if so, why does it happen?

  • Peak Activity: Cicadas are most noisy during the hottest part of the day, typically from late morning to early afternoon. The heat increases their metabolic activity, which in turn intensifies their calling behavior.

  • Mating Calls: Male cicadas call out the most during these hours to attract females. The louder and more frequent their calls, the better their chances of finding a mate.

  • Evening Quiet: As temperatures drop in the evening, cicada activity decreases, leading to quieter surroundings. This is partly because cooler temperatures slow down their muscle contractions.

Understanding this behavior can help us appreciate these noisy insects better. If you’re curious about cicada activity and noise patterns, the Xerces Society blog has a wealth of information.

These insights provide a glimpse into the fascinating world of cicada noise, answering some common questions and helping us understand why these insects are so remarkably loud. Stay tuned for more intriguing details about cicadas and their captivating sounds.

07. Conclusion

The mystery of “How do cicadas make so much noise” has been unraveled through a blend of anatomy and evolutionary ingenuity. Cicadas employ specialized structures called tymbals to produce their characteristic loud calls, amplified by their hollow abdomens. Their noise plays a critical role in mating rituals and predator deterrence.

These unique mechanisms highlight the sophistication of nature’s designs. Whether you’re marveling at their survival strategies or marveling at their acoustic feats, cicadas provide a fascinating glimpse into the complexity of the natural world.

Feel free to share your experiences or questions about cicadas in the comments below! We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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