This edition of Nearby Nature marks the one hundredth article in our nature series. It is hard to believe that when Matt Sorrick and I started this endeavor it would have lasted this long. It was our intent to inform our readers about our natural world and hopefully motivate them to venture out and experience the wonder and majesty that we call planet earth. From Snowflake Bentley, one tank trips, viewing the night sky, caterpillars, nature play, and so many more, we hope you have enjoyed the ride and learned a thing or two along the way. So on we go to learn about the “sounds of summer”.
From the time the snow melts in the spring the night is filled with noises, beginning with the wood frogs and spring peepers. As we move into late spring and early summer the green frogs, bull frogs, and tree frogs begin their nightly chorus. But by late June the real sound of summer begins …the cacophony of sounds produced by the insects.
Insects are an important part of summer and of our collective impression of the passing seasons. Everyone remembers those hot summer nights as kids catching fireflys and hearing the dog day cicadas and katydids. That’s when summer really began. Who needs Ambien or Lunesta when you can fall asleep with the windows open and hear to the melodic sounds of the crickets. When my son was in the Navy on a submarine for months on end, the one thing he missed was hearing the sound of a summer night.
For the past couple of months during the late morning and afternoon, we have been able to hear the rasping, buzzing sound of dog day or annual cicadas emanating from trees. These are not the periodic cicadas that some of you experienced this year, but a much larger cousin. Often heard but rarely seen, these harbingers of late summer warm weather days remind us that fall is around the corner. According to folk legend, when you hear the first song of the dog-day cicadas, it means there are just six weeks until frost. While this may not be a precise predictor, there is some merit to the claim. Dog-day cicadas, as their name implies, appear during the long, hot summer days of late July and August.
At dusk the male Black field crickets, as well as, the ground crickets begin rubbing their wings together, dragging a small peg on one wing across a row of ridges on the other. The result is a series of clicks similar to what happens when you click your thumbnail down the teeth of a comb. Only with the crickets the clicks are so fast you don’t hear the individual clicks. What you hear is a trill or a chirp. Like the cicadae, the black field crickets are weather predictors. If you count the chirps for 14 seconds and add 40 you have the ambient air temperature. These crickets have uncanny accuracy. They are within 1 degree plus or minus every time. Their cousins, the tree crickets singing in shrubs, trees, and sitting on tall plants like goldenrods, late summer grasses, and weeds. Lest we forget, the Coneheads, no not from the planet Remulack, but the small insects that look like grasshoppers but with antenna that are longer than their body. Grasshoppers’ antenna is very short. Their singing along with the crickets starts off the evening song fest.
Late at night the last singers of the day take over and sing till the wee hours of the morning. Katydids are large green insects (2 -2 1/2 inches in length) that are more commonly heard than seen. Katydids resemble a leaf and easily hide within the upper crown of a hardwood tree. They are named for the rhythmic song they sing in late summer. The males sing in quick bursts of two, three or four notes that sort of sound like Kay-tee-did. Or Kay-tee-did-did. The sound is a crisp and harsh tone similar to saying the word zit with a prolonged Z sound and abrupt T on the end. Now say it three times in quick succession. Neighboring males often alternate their chirps creating a synchronized call-and-response medley pulsating back and forth between tree tops.
Now some of you might wonder why these melodious creatures don’t begin singing earlier in the summer. Why does it take them until mid-June or July to get their vocal chords warmed up so to speak? First of all, they hatch out in early summer and need time to grow. But the most important factor is the night temperature. Because they are cold blooded creatures, the evening temperature need to be above 50-55 degrees for them to begin singing. One last caveat, what is all this singing good for? Well, like all other creatures in our natural world, it’s to find a mate and start the process all over again so next summer we can be mesmerized by the sound of summer.
Hopefully, you have enjoyed the past 100 installments of Nearby Nature. It is our hope that you have learned something from our efforts and most importantly, you have gone out and enjoyed our natural world. Now, onward to the next 100!