Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The song of summer

Cicadas. Theirs is the sound of summer. It might be a bit of a stretch to call it the "song" of summer, but it is certainly the background music for everything we do outdoors in summer.

The noise of one alone may not be that noticeable but multiply that one by scores or hundreds and you get a chorus that can at times be earsplitting. Some find it annoying or even painful, but I've come to appreciate the cacophonous sound.

At this time of year, the birds are going silent. Most have finished their family responsibilities and have or soon will begin the next big event of avian life: the annual molt. They will get rid of their worn old feathers and grow bright new ones to take them through winter. This takes a lot of energy (so keep those bird feeders stocked) and birds in the midst of molt do not want to call attention to themselves and so their songs become fewer and farther between. Our yards might be almost silent at this time were it not for the cicadas.

At night, of course, we have the music of the frogs, crickets, and other denizens of the dark, but during daylight hours, the cicadas reign supreme.

The summer music of the cicadas is one of the earliest memories of my childhood. We called them "dry flies" where I grew up. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because they appeared at the driest time of year or maybe it was because of the dry shell they left behind when they molted from nymph to adult. I can remember being fascinated by those dry shells that were a ghostly image of their former occupants.

That shell is only one of the many interesting things about cicadas. They figure in the folklore and songs of many cultures and in some parts of the world they are considered delicacies for the dinner table!

The cicadas in my yard are luckier than that. They have an appreciative audience for their "singing" and they don't have to worry about winding up on my dinner plate. The only things they do have to worry about are hungry Blue Jays and the cicada killer wasp.

It is amazing that this wasp, which is smaller than its prey, is able to capture and overcome the big cicada, but this one certainly has.

The Blue Jays and wasps might make some inroads on the population, but I suspect I will continue to be serenaded by this summer songster when I venture into the garden. And that makes me happy.

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