Have you ever heard of an insect that only comes out of the ground every 13 or 17 years? Periodical cicadas stay in the ground for years at a time, nourishing themselves by eating sap from roots. Some scientists say that periodical cicadas are among the loudest insects in the world. When these billions of cicadas emerge after living and feeding underground, they fill the air with the strange sound of their mating calls.
Male cicadas use drum-like structures on their abdomen called tymbals to create a loud, high-pitched buzz to attract female companions, who respond with a quick flick of their wings together. This mating call and response, which sounds to some like the whining of electrical wires rising and falling, can reach over 90 A-weighted decibels or "dBA." That is as loud as a lawnmower, motorcycle, or tractor! People who live in the city are less likely to see or hear these insects because cicadas prefer trees, shrubs, and soil. Their loud buzz can be a noisy nuisance to many rural and suburban towns.
Within a short period of time, the cicadas will mate, and the females will bury their eggs underground before dying. Cicadas don’t bite, but if the noise bothers you when you’re outdoors, wear hearing protectors, such as earplugs or earmuffs.
Want more information?
- Check out the decibel levels of sounds using the NIOSH Sound Level Meter App
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