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ON THE LAND

FARM AND STATION.

THE SONG OF THE CICADA.

-  

It is in the early days of November that   the cicada first appears in the eucalypts of

Eastern Australia. He is the herald of sum-

mer, and sings the song of sunshine, but his monotonous note suggests depressing heat. He evidently considers that the hotter the day the better the deed, for he sings most lustily when the thermometer approaches 100 in the shade. All other sounds of the bush are drowned in the too-insistent chorus of this orchestra of monotony; the concerted screech silences the voices of the birds, the lisping of the creeks, the whispering of the leaves; all sounds are subordinate. The ci- cada is the loudest-voiced of all the insect tribe; he is also believed to be the longest lived, but most of his life is lived deep underground, and in that may be the reason for his noise. He does not sing after sun- down-except when disturbed, when he will emit a few ejaculatory notes-nor does he sing on dull days. Some drum with a con- tinuous note, and some with a staccato move- ment; and some again punctuate their drum- ming in a way that can only be likened to the signalling in tho Morse code. The sound is made by the rapid buckling backward and for- ward of the thin membrane which Is stretch- ed over the ribs like the parchment on a tambourine. "The movements of the muscle on the tendon during the production of the note resemble those of the hammer-board of a piano when a number of keys are being struck in quick succession." The drum of the male is situated between the thorax and the base of the abdomen. The cicada is not a locust, as the small boy will persist in having it, that name belonging to a grass- hopper. The cicada's most interesting fea- tures, after the sound drums, are the three bright jewelled eyes fixed triangularly on the top of the head; those are in addition to the round prominent compound eyes on each side. There are several species which do not sing, and the females are voiceless, for which falling they have the thanks of the community. As a Greek poet writes: "Happy the cicada's lives, for they have voiceless

wives."

Australia could boast, If it cared to, of over 120 varieties of cicada, more than any other country in the world; but Australia does not boast, it w0uld gladly be rid of them. The "double drummer" Is the prlze of the eager juvenile hunter of cicadas. It is so called because of the swollen drums of the males projecting on the sides of the abdo- men. He is of a fine reddish-brown colour, marked with brown and black, and measures 5in across the open wings. He lives in the open forest, where his loud note has every chance, and drums three times in succession, with a break before repeating. In drum- ming he drops his wings to his sides and raises the end of the body. The "green Monday" is one of the commonest, but is a strong singer, and has three bright red, gemlike eyes on a black ground, the rest of tho body being yellow and green. The "yel- low Monday," somewhat scarcer, is his first cousin. The "fiddler," a black cicada, is so called because of the resemblance of its humming note to the tune of a violin. The "red-eye," another black fellow, is to be found on the smooth-barked eucalyp- tus trees in great numbers, sucking up the sap. The note of this chap is shrill, but ends in a series of sharp squeaks. He can be heard a great distance. The "red-winged squeaker" is one of the first to appear, and his note is short and squeaky; he is one of the com- monest on the smaller trees. The "black squeaker," found on the Blue Mountains most frequently, drops his wings and depresses the end of his body when squeaking his sharp, regular note, unlike the double drummer, who elevates his body. The "floury miller" or "floury baker" is the best musician of them all. He is one of the last to put in an appear- ance in the ranks of this strange bush orches- tra, and Christmas is upon us when we hear his voice. He is reddish-brown, with a pale stripe down the front half of his body and three black spots on his wings. He looks as though he had been dusted with flour, hence his name. There is another variety, a dark red one with white patches on the sides of the abdomen, which falls an easy prey to the wasps because of its conspicuous appearance. The very small varieties are known as squeak- ers. Two cicadae of different varieties will mate, and therein is the reason for the great number of species.

The cicada has an interesting life, interest- ing because the learned men have not yet fathomed it. The female is armed with a strong weapon, with which she tears cracks on the twigs of trees wherein to deposit her eggs. She lays about 500, and then dies, her life's duty ended. The young ones hatch out in a few weeks, and when they leave the egg they look like a cross between a flea and a miniature shrimp, if you can imagine such an object. They fall or jump to the ground and burrow deep downiInto the ground; they feed   on the roots down there, and undergo a series of moults on change of size and condition, but how the live larvae change to the moribund pupae, and when, no man knoweth. It is not known, either, how long they stay underground, though their reappearance in largely increased numbers every three years in Australia has led entomologists to consider that the species here take about three years to reach maturity. In America this period is 17 years for some species, and they aro known as "seventeen year cicadas." When the time comes, how- ever, the pupa burrows straight upward through the earth, leaving a long straight hole, and climbs up the nearest tree-trunk, log, or post, and casts off its skin. This skin, which is an almost exact reproduction of the perfect cicada's shape, splits down the back, allowing the insect to escape. The wings are then im- perfect, but by the.following morning they are ready to fly, and during the day the perfect insect commences his noisy career. The dry shell stays on the tree, where it is firmly fixed by the strong front claws, and may be seen months afterwards unless a bird comes along in expectation of a fat meal, and becomes bit- terly disillusioned. The male cicada seems to have nothing to do but to drum and suck sap all day. The female makes no noise, but goes about feeding quietly, and after a time lays her eggs. In feeding, most varieties bury their proboscis right up to the head, penetrating the outer bark to where the sap is free-flowing. The large black cicada, having a powerful pro- boscis, causes the sap to flow so freely that it forms manna-dried sugary sap. The life of the perfect insect lasts only a few weeks, and by the end of March-the end of Summer-all have disappeared.  

The hornet will catch hold of a cicada and shake him till he leaves the tree, and will then drink tho sap which the cicada caused to flow. But, again, the hornet plays another part. The female flies straight at a cicada drumming away on the side of a tree and stings it. The cicada falls to the ground, whereupon the hornet flies down, drags it with desperate energy to the side of a wheel rut where the sand is loose, deposits her eggs in the hapless cicada's body, and covers the lot with sand. The heat of the decomposing cicada, with the heat of the sun, hatches out tho eggs, and the young hornets have their food right at hand. The cicada contains very little nour- ishment, being nothing but skin and bone, but what he lacks in quality he makes up in num- bers, and from the hundreds to be sometimes found on a singlo tree the wandering bird manages to secure a decent meal.

Digitisation generously supported by
Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation
Digitisation generously supported by

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