I’ll take crickets over cicadas.
About 10 days ago, I heard the first cicada in the backyard, a sound that always signals the waning of summer. You know the cicada sound — a metallic rattling drone that tapers off, as if it forgot the point it was trying to make. You always note the first one, because you’ve forgotten it for all these months. When we’re in the bottom of the well of winter, we think of birdsong, not some insect yelling for sex.
That is the point, isn’t it? They’re advertising themselves: “I am a cicada, and I am here to continue the mindless cycle of reproduction.” No, I am not going to make a lame comparison to humans because, for one thing, after the female cicada lays 2,000 eggs, she does not ask the male cicada if he’s thinking about how they’ll afford college.
Crickets are different. A website about cricket sounds says there are different reasons for their chirps. The first: “Calling to attract a female with a loud and monotonous sound.” Ah, the direct approach: “Guy here. Guy here. Come and gitch’er love, babe. Guy here.”
The second: “Courting a nearby female with a quick, softer chirp.” So once they get the female’s attention, they get all Barry White on the gal.
Third reason: “Behaving aggressively during the encounter of two males.” This means a female could be attracted by the loud chirping and wander over, only to find two guys loudly arguing about the Twins’ relief pitchers.
I don’t hear crickets in the backyard lately, and there’s a depressing reason. There used to be a formula that went something like: You could count the number of chirps in 15 seconds, add 37, divide by pi, multiply by the hour (military style, where 11 p.m. is 2300 hours) and you have the temperature in Fahrenheit. If you want Celsius you need French crickets, or les criqui Francais, which are rare in these parts.
Now we can just look at our phones for the temp, and the crickets probably thought, “Well, we’re not needed here anymore,” and went off to wherever the frogs went.
Remember frogs? The backyard of my childhood evenings I recall as a chorale of burping frogs and temp-telling crickets. It was quite the conversation: “I’ve got gas.” “It’s 74.” “I’ve got gas. “It’s 74.” If you counted the frog croaks in an hour and divided by 10, you got the lowest prevailing interest rate on a 30-year mortgage. Now you can apply for a loan by phone.
Back to cicadas. I learned an interesting fact, thanks to the U’s page on the bugs: Our cicadas are dog-day cicadas, not periodical cicadas. The latter live underground for 13 to 17 years before bursting out in great swarms to gross out everyone, and this means people have to deal with teenage cicadas who think they know everything. Our cicadas may drone on and on, saying nothing, but at least they’re not almost old enough to vote.
The article concludes: “If you see cicadas, just ignore them, and they will go away on their own.” Works with friends, too! But if you hear them, pay heed. You’ll never notice the last one. You will never stop to think they’ve fallen silent, and frost is nigh. Every cicada is a testament to summer. If they’re singing, so should you.