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Buzzing males still searching for mates

PRATT One of the most familiar sounds of a Kansas summer is the harmonious evening song of the cicada. Although September has already rolled around, cicada calls still fill the evening air.

There are about 75 different kinds of cicadas in North America, from Kansas east. Each has its own buzz, so the female can zero in on the noisy male of her own species. Cicada song in backyard trees can become quite loud in the evening although some species perform during the day. The buzzing males often attract other males to the same spot, and they begin to chorus. This group effort produces a higher volume and can draw in females from a greater distance.

The sound produced by a male cicada comes from a special membrane on the side of its body that it vibrates using attached muscles. The membrane acts like a tiny drum over a hollow, resonating chamber. The alternating high-speed vibration creates sound waves that can cause quite a din in the forest.

After the female mates, she makes a slit in a young twig of a deciduous tree and deposits her eggs. This usually causes that twig and its cluster of leaves to die. When the eggs hatch, the young fall to the ground and burrow into the soil to feed on juices extracted from the tree roots. Here, they may stay for two to 17 years, depending on the species.

Although the majority of cicada species have life cycles of only a few years, two species called periodical cicadas stay in the ground for 13 and 17 years, respectively. These species emerge only every 13 or 17 years in specific areas of the country while other species may leap-frog emergence. In Kansas, 17-year cicadas emerged in late spring of 1998 in eastern portions of the state only.

Cicadas are often mistakenly called locusts, which belong to the same group of insects as grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets. The cicadas are in the same order as leafhoppers and aphids.

Many predators capture and devour these large (often more than 2-inches long) insects. One predator a black and yellow wasp called the cicada killer specializes in attacking cicadas. The cicada killer paralyzes the cicada with its sting and stashes the body in a burrow as a provision to feed the wasp larvae.

Cicada song will soon be gone with the autumn wind, but not gone for good. Listen late next summer. You may even be lucky enough to hear the much quieter hum of the periodical cicadas, which are smaller and have reddish-orange eyes and wing veins.



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