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Home Thailand Khun Korn National Park ⇒ About Cicadas

Khun Korn National Park, Thailand

2The Cicada: The World’s Loudest Insect

The volume of the cicadas’ call is completely out of proportion to their size, making them one of the noisiest insects around. Only the males produce the loud "songs" using organs in their abdomens called tymbals. This method of producing sound is known as stridulation and is supposed to make them unbearably sexy and attractive to female cicadas, while, presumably, at the same time shaming other males with their masculine virtuosity. To me they sound like runaway chainsaws, or perhaps a racing 2-stroke motorcycle with its exhaust removed. Some species manage to sound like high pitched electric alarm bells on panic mode.

A cicada on a tree.
Spot the cicada.

Whatever you may think the "song" sounds like, it drills into your head and is quite disorientating. Moving your head, trying to locate the source, causes weird internal echoes and Doppler effects but you may be able to get close enough to spot one before it scoots off, crashing randomly into trees and shrubs. And these creatures seem to be on every tree, each trying to outdo its neighbour. The noise can be genuinely painful, so there’s a great sense of relief when one near you stops temporarily as you pass by.

Cicadas are most active at dusk, and under these trees it’s always dusk. Worldwide there are many species, each with its own distinct sound, which varies, according to the temperature. I have occasionally caught one on the ground, stunned after flying into a tree. They are perfectly harmless and if you flick them on to their back and tickle their abdomen, they will oblige by bursting your eardrums. Experts say this is an alarm call rather than a mating call but who can really tell the difference? If you are not expecting it, the shock can make you drop them which is I suppose why they do it. They don’t bite but their sharp clawed feet grip very firmly, and presumably if they think your finger is a tree and try to feed off it, that will hurt.

If you want to see more explicit pictures of Thai cicadas then this site has several examples along with samples of their calls.

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