Drive in the desert with the windows down and feel how freely the heat sails in. An eerie sound rises and fades in the parched landscape as you pass trees and shrubs holding cicadas. The piercing serenade sounds like hundreds of seeds shaken in a dancer’s rattle. This is a siren song for mates. The male cicada produces his song in his hollow abdomen, rapidly clicking muscular membranes called tymbals together. The bug turns up the volume by changing his posture.
The male cicada’s body is mostly shell, formed to create loud songs. Birds prefer the silent female. Her abdomen may be full of juicy eggs, like protein shakes for hungry birds. Humans also prefer female cicadas in parts of the world where they are eaten.
Even in the hottest month, when triple digit temperatures cast a stupor across the landscape, the cicadas belt love songs into the shimmering air. The secret to this heat tolerance? Cicadas sweat, casting humidity into the surrounding air like tiny swamp coolers. Tapping into the xylem of trees or other plants provides moisture to fuel this marvel of evolution.
Diaphanous casings can be found clinging to tree bark and plaster walls. The discarded exoskeleton has been cracked open, releasing the cicada from a long dream. The story began on a summer day perhaps five years ago when the female cut minute slits in the bark of a tree and deposited her eggs. The hatched nymphs tumbled to the ground and instinctively burrowed into the soil. They lay in secret season after season, sipping nutrients from the roots of the tree and gradually morphing into winged cicadas.
In a classic moment of renewal, the brand new cicada bursts free from its old shell in the spring. The creature wipes and straightens antenna with a front leg and shakes out crumpled, newfound wings, already miraculously ready for flight. Held still in the unbreakable cycle of life, the male must soon begin his song. It is said to herald the monsoon.