The warm days of summer bring with them the sounds of insects. Many of these are mating calls designed to attract a female of the species.
Cicadas are a large-winged insect related to aphids and stink bugs. They produce a rather loud “buzz” by vibrating a membrane (tymbal) on the abdomen. Found east of the Mississippi River, some areas have cicadas every summer, while other areas have the periodical cicada whose emergence is every 13 to 17 years. These insects are active during the day and can be almost deafening when large numbers sound out all at once.
Another diurnal songster is the grasshopper. The rapid clicks made by grasshoppers are often described like the sound made by running one’s finger over the edge of a comb. This insect is rubbing a hind leg against its hard forewing. They are a chewing insect, usually up to no good. When I hear a grasshopper, I am sure to find holes in my raspberry plants. Grasshoppers are also called locusts and responsible for a lot of crop damage when their populations become large.
Evening and night bring out the songs of crickets. They produce “chirps,” which I find rather soothing, by rubbing together their leathery wing covers. To add to the nocturnal chorus are katydids. Their three-note call, “Katy Did, Katy Didn’t,” is familiar to many. These bright green insects can reach 5 inches in length. They vibrate their wings while rubbing them on a “scraper.” A number of males may synchronize their calls, making them quite loud.
But insects produce other sounds besides those for mating. The “buzz” of bumble and honey bees is made by their rapid wing beats. It is music to my ears. I enjoy hearing it when I am busy weeding in the garden, knowing that the “girls” are also busy pollinating my fruits and vegetables.
Smaller insects such as flies and mosquitos emit a higher-pitched buzz or whine. Flies beat their wings 200 times per second. We have two large milkweed patches that support not only Monarch caterpillars but also Red Milkweed Bugs. These small (.3- to .5-inch long) beetles are capable of producing a squeak as a warning call.
I placed several beetles in a jar and then listened at the mouth of the jar to pick up the faint sound they produced. Bess Bugs (actually a beetle) also produce a squeak by rubbing the upper part of the abdomen against a hind wing. These 1- to 1.5-inch long beetles are decomposers and can be found in well-decayed logs and stumps in the woods. They live in colonies and communicate with, reportedly, up to 14 different sounds. Other sounds, such as hisses, pops and clicks are in the repertoire of some insects.
We need to enjoy these sounds while we can. For many insects, when mating is accomplished and eggs have been laid, the adults will die. Frost will put an end to any insects that do not hibernate or otherwise protect themselves from the cold.
Thanks to modern technology, a fascinating documentation of various sounds produced by insects can be found at the Smithsonian’s website: https://folkways.si.edu/sounds-of-insects/album/smithsonian.