Photo copyright 2012 Peggy Fountain Moody
Summer has many sounds here in the Texas Hill Country. Occasionally, during the day, I hear the throaty, strumming call of the secretive yellow-billed cuckoo--my mother called it a rain crow and believed that it signaled rain (I wish oh I wish). At night, there's the plaintive quank quank of the tree frogs. And all through the long afternoons, through the hottest hours of the day, the incessant, metalic buzzing of the cicadas.
A researcher at the University of Texas--someone with very good ears--identified five species of Cicadidae at a field laboratory some 50 miles east of us. Another researcher, in 1933, wrote this memorable report from an area 100 miles to our east:
"East central Texas is a veritable cicada paradise. I have never visited a region where so many species are as abundant as occur in, for instance, the Madison County region. They are numerous in many parts of the post oak woods, but are most plentiful in the alluvial forests and groves in the lower grounds along the Navasota and Trinity Rivers. Here in June and July, the air is vibrant with the songs of Tibicen superba, T. pruinosa, T. resh, T. marginalis, T. chloromera, T. lyricen and Diceroprocta vitripennis. The chorus becomes most intense late in the afternoon, when pruinosa may predominate. The songs of the species mentioned differ considerably and are quite easily recognizable. Tibicen resh is often found in great numbers in some large detached oak or other tree standing in the open, the trunk of which may bear scores of the cast skins of this species. Resh may be silent for long intervals, when suddenly the whole population may burst into song simultaneously, resulting in an ear-splitting din which subsides as suddenly as it arose.
I can't claim to make these fine distinctions of cicada song, but I know one when I hear it. I recognize the round, thumb-sized holes from which the nymphs emerge after their long, secret life underground--three years for some species, seventeen years for others. (Think what has happened in the past seventeen years and then imagine sleeping through it!)
And I can see their empty exoskeletons clinging to twigs and tree trunks, where the nymphs have hung themselves out to dry for a few hours after their emergence, then abandoned their shells for wings and the wide world--and sex. The male sings for his mate and dies. The mated female lays her eggs on a tree branch and dies. And the eggs hatch into nymphs, drop to the ground, and burrow deep, a foot or more, to sleep through dark, silent, songless summers.
And then to emerge, and sing all the summer afternoon.
Reading note: In summer, the song sings itself. ~William Carlos Williams