Imagine a hundred maracas shaken at once. If they were buzzing as well, and if they reached a hundred decibels or more, you’d have the marvelous sound of the cicadas. Then imagine they take cues from one another, their chorus of sound swelling to overpowering for fifteen or twenty seconds, then dying away, only to start again.
They are male Tibicen cicadas, singing during the midday heat in northern Arizona. Tibicens have a lifespan of only a few years at most, and they emerge every summer to seek their mates and sing their deafening songs. Males contract a ribbed abdominal tissue, called a tymbal, to make their sounds. Females emit clicks but do not sing in chorus like the males. The species here in Prescott looks to me like T. cultriformis. (If you can ID them exactly, please let me know.)
After mating and laying eggs, they die. Which means that if you walk among trees during August, you’re likely to find one or more bodies. Returning to my hotel today, I found this one on the path under cottonwood trees, and I spent some magical moments getting to know a species I’d never before examined up close—and that turned out to be a whole lot more colorful than I’d expected. The first beautiful surprise was the green on their wings.
Then there were the eyes protruding from the head. I wonder what the world looks to eyes that are made like this. I could have sworn they were still regarding me watchfully.
Note too the mouth parts in the center, made for sipping and sucking at tree juice. The cicada is a liquid feeder.
But most exquisite were the wings. In the sunlight they glittered, a bejeweled fabric stretched on a frame of the finest bronze threads. The texture of the wings was crinkly but not brittle, the tissue perfectly transparent.