Ever Wondered What It Sounds Like When a Cicada Gets Busy?

Jun 12, 2013

Every 17 years, the east coast plays host to one of nature's biggest -- and loudest -- parties. The guests are millions of periodical cicadas, red-eyed bugs who burrow their way out of the ground to mate, and sometimes, they do it with a light switch.

During sex, male cicadas cycle through three distinct courtship sounds. Females are mostly silent, but do lightly flick their wings to indicate sexual interest. John Cooley, a biologist at the University of Connecticut, helped discover the female wing flick and realized he could simulate it using a light switch. In the audio above, Cooley duets with himself - simulating male cicada calls while flicking the light switch in his hand. This results in a -- somewhat confused -- cicada cycling through three distinct courtship sounds and mounting the switch.  Other interesting cicada facts: 

  • A male cicada chorus sounds like a single-note drone, but it's actually multi tonal chord with a distinct downward slide.
  • Connecticut is part of "Brood II," a massive underground city of cicadas stretching south to North Carolina and parts of northern Georgia.