Cicadas @

March: Large Bottle CicadaCicada of the Month

Posted by Lindsay Popple Sun, March 01, 2015 18:57:43

Cicadas are still quite noticeable in coastal subtropical and tropical climates during March, generally with only a few stragglers still remaining in more temperate areas. Notably, few species are still emerging this late in the season. Those few can include the last remnants of mature populations of Silver Knight/ Black Prince, which can persist well into autumn, the bunyips, bottle cicadas and the unusual hairy cicadas. In fact, Hairy cicadas often reach their highest levels of abundance at this time of year, but they are inconspicuous nocturnal cicadas that are restricted to cool temperate areas on the mainland and in Tasmania. In addition, sporadic, local emergences of grass cicadas occur in northern, central and western inland areas after early autumn rainfall.

Blog image[Male Alpine Hairy Cicada: at the height of its emergence in March]

On a late afternoon walk in Brisbane this past week, I was delighted to find a freshly emerged male Large Bottle Cicada calling beside a busy roadway. While I often hear them calling at dusk, they are usually widely scattered and often at height, which makes them difficult to observe at close quarters. This little guy, however, was quite obliging so I took him home for some photos before releasing him into a suitable tree outside, not far from wear I originally found him.

Blog image[Male Large Bottle Cicada: dorsal view]

Large Bottle Cicada occurs principally in association with (mainly lowland) rainforest areas in southeastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales. Much of their habitat has been cleared for development; however they will also occur in garden plants, including exotic species that provide a similar microhabitat structure to rainforest vegetation. The individual that I found most recently was sitting in a Mock Orange, which has historically been a popular garden plant in Brisbane.

Blog image[Male Large Bottle Cicada: anterior view]

During the day, males occasionally produce a short clicking call like someone tapping on a glass bottle. As the day wanes, these call become more frequent. Then, by the onset of dusk, males burst into a continuous, kettle-like whistle. This last for about half an hour and finishes a little after the Bladder Cicada males begin calling on nightfall.

Blog image[Male Large Bottle Cicada: lateral view]

The greatly inflated abdomen of bottle cicada and bladder cicada species is a trait restricted to the male. Females look similar to females of other more typical cicadas, although they are also typically bright green. The swollen abdomen of the male enables the amplification of a loud, relatively pure tone song, which penetrates effectively through leafy rainforest habitats.

Blog image[Male Large Bottle Cicada: dorsolateral view]

More information on Large Bottle Cicada, with links to similar species can be foundhere. You can listen to its dusk calling song here and its strange, ‘bottle tapping’, clicking call here.

Yellowbelly: the purring cicadaCicada of the Month

Posted by Lindsay Popple Sun, February 01, 2015 14:40:15

By February in Australia, the peak of the cicada season has passed, but it is still summer and the cicadas still tend to hang on, particularly in coastal and tropical areas. One of those cicadas is Yellowbelly, which is the cicada of the month for February. Yellowbelly may be one of the smaller species in the genus Psaltoda, but it produces quite a loud and conspicuous calling song for its size. The call of an individual male sounds very much like a small power generator, with a definitive purring quality. Males may call continuously or in short bursts, with a characteristic ‘sigh’ at the end of each burst. When in large numbers, the call becomes a blur of noise, loud enough for people to take notice at times.
Blog image [A male Yellowbelly cicada, calling on a tree trunk]

Each year, the first adult Yellowbelly cicadas typically appear in late October. They can be present in big numbers anytime between late November and late February. Numbers usually drop dramatically during March with occasional survivors extending through to April. The species is found from north Queensland south along the coast and ranges to the south coast of New South Wales. They can be found in association with eucalypts in open forest, in heathland and shrubland. Populations generally require in-tact areas of bushland to persist, but they can also occur in adjacent parkland and sometimes in gardens. It is a prominent species in parts of Greater Brisbane and Greater Sydney, particularly in areas with soils derived from sandstone and granite.
Blog image [A female Yellowbelly cicada, showing its golden underside (hence the name)]

Like almost all larger cicadas, Yellowbelly adults tend to occur in localised aggregations in bushland areas. Like other species in the genus Psaltoda, calling males flex their abdomen freely to alter the tone and pitch of their song. The abdomen also expands quite noticeably during song production. The species has been called ‘Yellowbelly’ due to the rich, honey-like coloration of the underside. It can be distinguished from other similar species in the genus by the colour of the postclypeus (‘nose’) being predominantly black, in combination with clear wings.

Further information and a distribution map for this species can be found here and you can listen to its unique and unusual calling song here.

Twangs of gold in the subalpine meadows...Cicada of the Month

Posted by Lindsay Popple Sat, January 10, 2015 15:21:02

January: Golden Twanger

The cicada season in most parts of Australia typically peaks by the end of the year. Cicadas appear to operate best physiologically with an ambient temperature between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius (ideally between 24 and 27°C), with some variation depending on other climatic features, such as cloud cover and wind chill factor. In cool temperate areas and especially in the subalpine zone, the window of occurrence of adult cicadas is generally quite narrow. This is most likely due to the high exposure to temperature extremes that are typically experienced in these areas. At the height of summer, it can be quite hot with maximum temperatures sometimes exceeding 40°C. However, the weather can suddenly become much colder, with minimums still often falling below 10°C. As such, this presents a challenging environment for cicadas. The cicada species that occur in these environments must have specific physical and behavioural adaptations to cope with the sudden weather changes.

There are few cicadas that occur in subalpine areas. Some notable examples include the unusual hairy cicadas, which are distantly related to the rest of the cicadas (in a separate family), Redeye, some hardy representatives of the genus Yoyetta, Red Scratcher and members of the genus Diemeniana. The cicada of the month for January belongs to the last example, and is the most widespread species in this genus: Golden Twanger.

Blog image [A newly emerged male adult Golden Twanger; photograph by Melita Milner]

Golden Twanger is a small–medium sized cicada that occurs prominently along the coasts of northern and eastern Tasmania and on the mainland from near Tenterfield in northern New South Wales south along the ranges and coastally south from near Wollongong, through the Australian Capital Territory into far eastern and southern central Victoria. It has also been found in far south-eastern South Australia. Like many cicadas, the adults are much paler immediately after emergence and in this case exhibit attractive red colouration (pictured above). After the wings have fully developed, they attain their true colouration (pictured below), which is mainly black above and light brown below, with reddish-brown to olive-brown markings on the head and thorax and conspicuous golden hairs in clusters over the abdomen. The wings display a distinctly red costal vein and small, dark, “quotation mark” infuscations.

Blog imageBlog image [A fully-coloured adult male Golden Twanger, dorsal view above, ventral view below]

The name, “Golden Twanger”, has been given to this species because the adults exhibit a golden sheen in sunlight, which is particularly conspicuous in the males as they move their abdomen up and down during song production. The regular movement of the abdomen produces the repeated “twang”-like call that is distinctive for this species. Bryan Haywood, who discovered the occurrence of this species in South Australia, suggested “Velvetback” as an alternative common name for this species. This name refers to the conspicuous covering of hairs over the thorax of this species. Many species that occur in cool temperate environments are similarly hairy (or tomentose), which likely forms part of their adaptations to cold weather.

Each season, the first Golden Twanger adults appear in mainland Australia during October (later in Tasmania). Numbers typically peak in mid-summer and in some years individuals may persist until late February. Populations can be found in temperate and subalpine open grassland, swampy sedgeland, low closed and open heathland and generally in areas with low vegetation and scattered tree cover, often broadly in the vicinity of water. You can watch a video of a calling male Golden Twanger above. Further information and a distribution map for this species can be found here and you can listen to its unique and unusual calling song here.

Your mobile does not support playing flash video.

Just plain deafening: Razor GrinderCicada of the Month

Posted by Lindsay Popple Sun, November 30, 2014 15:05:02

December is the month when most of the really loud cicadas start to make their presence known in eastern and northern Australia. Not surprisingly, these are also some of the largest species. As Greengrocer populations reach the climax of their emergence and start to fade, species like Eastern Double Drummer, Cherrynose, Redeye, Red Roarer and Darwin Whiner are building in numbers. Another species, worthy of mention as the December feature for ‘Cicada of the month’, is Razor Grinder. Have you ever been in a forested area of eastern Australia where the sound of cicadas is so loud that you can't hear yourself think? A place from which the birds have just fled from the cacophony and the trees are festooned with big, lumbering insects? If so, you may well have been witness to a Razor Grinder emergence. With the call of one individual male at close quarters approaching 120db (as loud as a jet engine), the chorus of these cicadas certainly goes beyond the pain threshold of human hearing and at the same time is quite a spectacle to witness.

Blog image

[Male Razor Grinder (Henicopsaltria eydouxii)]

Razor Grinder
emerges between mid-November and January and populations persist until February–March, with stragglers occasionally remaining until April–May. It occurs from Narooma on the south coast of New South Wales north to Gladstone and also near Mackay in central Queensland. It can be an exceptionally common species from the Greater Brisbane region south to the mid-north coast of New South Wales. Populations can be found in most intact forest types, from rainforest through to dry open eucalypt forest. In some years (like in the 2013–2014 summer, for example), emergences are widespread and adult aggregations become a conspicuous feature in areas of suitable habitat, whereas, in other years, they may be quite uncommon or localised. The duration of the life cycle and the precise cues that lead to emergence remain unknown. When conditions are suitably warm, male Razor Grinder cicadas begin calling around sunrise. Males (and presumably females) are attracted to the call of conspecifics (their own species) and form localised aggregations. Initially, they call in waves through the forest, with one group commencing calling, followed by another nearby group, and another and so on. When populations are large and microclimate conditions are suitable, males will often call continuously for an extended period. They call prominently in the morning and again in the late afternoon and dusk, as well as during other parts of the day when conditions are partly cloudy.

Blog image [Aggregation of adult Razor Grinder cicadas on a eucalypt]

There is actually a different population of Razor Grinder in eastern Australia known as Laughing Razor Grinder. It occurs in association with rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest between Main Range in Queensland and the Greater Sydney region in central New South Wales. It has a rather abrupt call with strongly-defined pulses. This lies in contrast with the gradual reverberating crescendo and decrescendo of the typical Razor Grinder call. Sometimes both Razor Grinder and Laughing Razor Grinder can be found at the same location. You can listen to the calls of Razor Grinder and Laughing Razor Grinder by following the embedded links.

Some excellent preliminary research on the calling behaviour of Razor Grinder cicadas has been conducted by James Herbert-Read and colleagues in New South Wales. You can read about this research here, here and here. Their research is ongoing and will be reliant on finding suitably large populations of Razor Grinder this summer. If you encounter this species on your travels, please contact me by leaving a comment on this post, via the contact form or via Twitter so that I can pass on the sightings to the research team. Every observation helps.

November: Southern Ticking AmbertailCicada of the Month

Posted by Lindsay Popple Sat, November 01, 2014 15:11:42

Where is that ‘tack, tack, tack’ sound coming from?

The majority of male cicadas make their sound while in a stationary position, but have you ever noticed one flying around while calling? If so, you are probably hearing an ambertail or tree-ticker. Or, if you are in southern Western Australia, you may well be hearing the legendary Duke, a species that can be notoriously difficult to observe. Apart from these particular cicadas, not many insects make sounds on the wing. Whistling Moth (Hecatesia fenestrata) is one other example. These moths fly in high circles, making a strange, high-pitched, rattling or grinding sound.
Blog image

[The male Black Tree-ticker starts calling while stationary, then launches into flight, calling vigorously and scouting for females]

My November feature for ‘Cicada of the Month’ is Southern Ticking Ambertail. So far, this species has been found in inland southern New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and around Adelaide in South Australia. Populations occur in open forest and woodland in association with eucalypts. In this species, the males fly actively, making a sharp ticking sound, similar to an electrical pulse passing through an electrified fence (which may be audible when earthed). They call once the temperature warms to above 20°C in the morning, again at intervals throughout the day provided that the temperature does not become too hot (i.e. >30°C), and again from late afternoon. The males are also often active in the summer twilight when the weather is balmy and are often attracted to artificial lights.
Blog image

[Southern Ticking Ambertail cicada (male) ]

You may be wondering why males of these cicadas fly around so actively when calling, while others sit still? Cicada calling songs are produced for the sole purpose of mate attraction. With almost no exceptions, the males produce the call. Each species essentially has unique call signature, which allows females to recognise the call of their species amongst background sounds, including the calls of other cicada species. In larger cicadas, the males often occur in big aggregations and the females fly in once they recognise the call of their species. By contrast, in the majority of smaller cicadas (including the ones that fly like Southern Ticking Ambertail), the males are more actively involved in mate localisation then the females. To facilitate this, the males have brief pauses encoded into calling songs. This allows them to listen for the precisely-timed response (a soft wing-click) of a nearby female. Males of many small cicada species tend to move singing stations fairly frequently in order to position themselves in an area where they might have a reasonable chance of elucidating and detecting a response from a female. This brings us back to the original question, which was: why do some species fly around when calling? In effect, this is just a behaviourally extreme version of moving between singing stations frequently, whereby the males instead move constantly while listening for a female response. This has the advantage of allowing males to cover much more territory when looking for females. At the same time, it uses a lot more energy than being stationary, so males tend to fly and sing in short bursts, particularly in hot or unusually cool weather. Once a female is detected, a calling male will stop scouting, swoop in and move quickly to locate the female, before mating takes place.
Blog image[Wave plot of the calling song of Southern Ticking Ambertail showing the characteristic sharp ticking pattern. Listen to a sample from this species here]

The distribution of Southern Ticking Ambertail between the eastern half of southern New South Wales and Adelaide is not well understood. Julianne Vincent of Adelaide has kindly shared some photographs of this species from Adelaide here and here. If you encounter this species or any other fascinating small cicada in your area, please take a recording on your smartphone and contact me by leaving a comment on this post, via the contact form or via Twitter. Specimen samples and photographs will also be very welcome. Keep listening and tell me about your encounters with the sounds of summer!

The cicadas of VictoriaRegional cicada information

Posted by Lindsay Popple Tue, October 14, 2014 13:43:52

As the cicada season is rapidly approaching in southern Australia, it would seem appropriate to examine the cicada diversity in Australia’s most densely populated state: Victoria. The state of Victoria is included in the distributions of 49 species of cicadas illustrated in 'A web guide to the cicadas of Australia'. As for the vast majority of the other states and territories of Australia, this is almost certainly an underestimate of the true diversity. Many species still await discovery and at least 70 species are considered likely to be present in this state.

Victoria contains a wide variety of habitats associated with its different climates. Broadly, the east and south receive more rainfall, on average, than the remainder of the state. These medium to high rainfall areas typically exhibit a cool temperate climate, with pockets of warm temperate areas along the coastline. Such areas contain tall forest, open forest, woodland, heathland and grassland, with localised patches of temperate rainforest in the east. In contrast, the north-west is conspicuously drier, with a predominantly semi-arid climate, becoming arid in the far north-west. This portion of the state contains dry mallee woodland, box woodland, mixed shrubland and grassland (including spinifex). The cicada diversity and species composition reflects the variety of habitats and climates.

Blog image
All cicada species in Victoria belong to the family Cicadidae, apart from Alpine Hairy Cicada, which is one of only two surviving representatives of the family Tettigarctidae. Within the Cicadidae, the subfamily Cicadinae contains the large, conspicuous and robust cicadas. Five species in Victoria belong to this subfamily, including Greengrocer and Redeye (pictured below), both of which are fairly widespread in Victoria and present around Melbourne. Another large cicada, Cherrynose, is restricted to eucalypt woodland in the Murray River region along the New South Wales border, apparently with several years elapsing between emergences. The remaining two species, Desert Screamer and Eastern Sandgrinder, are confined to the arid north-west. The other 43 species are smaller, thin-bodied, less conspicuous cicadas belonging to the subfamily Cicadettinae, which is extraordinarily diverse in Australia. The distributions of the majority of species in this subfamily are poorly known and under constant refinement.

Blog image

Of the cicada species known from Victoria, most appear to have wider distributions through south-eastern Australia. Indeed, New South Wales and/or the Australian Capital Territory share 86% of Victoria’s cicada diversity and 37% extend further north into southern Queensland. Only 14% of the Victorian fauna is shared with Tasmania, while 55% is shared with South Australia, 8% reaches Western Australia and 6% extends to the southern half of the Northern Territory. Three species are currently considered to be endemic to Victoria: (1) Dark Smoky Buzzer, which is known only from the original specimen collected in Melbourne; (2) Sale Squeaker, which is known only from the original specimen collected in Sale; and (3) Grampians Firetail (pictured below), which has been found in the vicinity of Hall’s Gap.

Blog image

You can listen to a comprehensive selection of calling songs from the cicadas of Victoria here.

The temperate climate of Victoria often results in rapidly changing weather conditions. As a result, cicada emergences are sporadic and the adults are often short-lived (typically one to three weeks at most). A few astute observers have reported their local observations on websites or blogs. Some excellent examples include the Morwell National Park Invertebrates website by Ken Harris and these blog posts by listeningearth, Geoff Park and bertbohosouth. Serendipitous observations are invaluable to improving our understanding of the geographical occurrence of these cicadas and their seasonality. Any photographs, recordings and/or specimen samples obtained from your local area or during travel will always be very welcome. Please listen out for the sounds of summer in Victoria this season and send in your records by leaving a comment on this post, via the contact form or via Twitter.

October: A buzzing grassland ensemble: Smoky Buzzer (Myopsalta waterhousei)Cicada of the Month

Posted by Lindsay Popple Wed, October 01, 2014 12:40:07

In some years, between October and December, the temperate grasslands spring to life with the sound of Smoky Buzzer cicadas. These are small insects, just over 15 mm long, black above, with a pale straw colour on the underside of the abdomen and with conspicuously smoky fore wings. Populations occur in local aggregations in both native and mixed native/ exotic open grasslands. This species currently known from around Warwick in Queensland, the New England and Southern Tablelands regions of New South Wales, the Canberra area in the Australian Capital Territory, the Craigieburn Grasslands north of Melbourne in Victoria and also historically from around Adelaide in South Australia.

Blog image

Blog image
A closely similar species, Lesser Smoky Buzzer, occurs in drier grassland habitats in the Central West, Southern Tablelands, South-West Slopes and Riverina districts of New South Wales, the north-western third of Victoria and south-eastern South Australia. It sometimes occurs together with Smoky Buzzer in New South Wales, where the two species can be very hard to differentiate due to their near identical appearance. However, they do differ markedly in the structure of their calling songs. Smoky Buzzer makes a low metallic growl that modulates into a modest roar in each phrase, whilst Lesser Smoky Buzzer makes an alien, metallic, wavering buzz in each phrase.

For further information on these species, and to listen to their calling songs, see the Smoky Buzzer and Lesser Smoky Buzzer pages on the Cicadas of Australia website.

The distributions of Smoky Buzzer and Lesser Smoky Buzzer have been pieced together based on a scattering of records that been obtained so far. If you encounter either of these species or any other interesting cicadas in your area or on your travels, please send in your record by leaving a comment on this post, via the contact form or via Twitter. Remember to take a note of the song, or a recording is even better. Photographs and/or specimen samples will also be very welcome. All observation records are invaluable to improving our understanding of the geographical occurrence of these species and their seasonality. Please keep your eyes and especially your ears open!