music, food and love and all that jazz
October 19, 2006
How do you know whether this cicada is a little boy or a girl? The white line gives a clue as it points, not to any sex organs, but to the mechanism that only male cicadas have for producing sound. As Aristotle first noticed, cicadas are the only creature anatomically equipped with a musical instrument. They don’t sing (the sound doesn’t come from their mouth) and they don’t stridulate or use an organ which also serves another purpose. No, the sole function of this membrane is for the males to call female cicadas when they wish to copulate. It’s the equivalent of standing on a street corner and blowing your horn to entice a young lady to jump into bed with you. Except that it works, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many cicadas. And so much varied cicada music. Some cicadas imitate the sounds of birds or bells, others circular saws and one just discovered, a police siren. In some ways it is a pity humans do not use this method of attracting a mate. The average male might be a little more musically gifted; dexterity on the flugelhorn would be the ultimate sign of virility; Mick Jagger would have to learn at least the guitar. The average female might have broader musical tastes instead of just listening to the Frozen Monkeys or whatever. And kids wouldn’t have to be forced into doing their recorder practice. (In case you’re concerned by these things, some male cicadas also answer the mating calls).