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Cicada Hawks Follow Rhythm Of Cicadas

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Louder than a chainsaw, the cicada produces a noise reaching 120 decibels, making it the loudest known insect. The cacophony produced by the annual swarm of these insects is well known for being the sound of late summer. Timothy Judd, professor and entomologist of Southeast Missouri State University, explains how this small bug makes such an uproar.

“Insects have a cuticle which is what the hard part is. And this is another special part inside that they scrape, that scraping sound you’re hearing. Like taking two files and scraping them together, special structure for that. It’s really loud but it is basically the males calling the females,” Judd said.

The cicada’s mating call doesn’t come without consequences. With this sound brings out a terrifying hunter of the insect world, the cicada hawk wasp. 

“Cicada hawks, or some people call them cicada killers, they are very large wasps. They look pretty mean but they’re really not that aggressive at all towards people,” Judd said. 

Being as thick and long as a man’s thumb, the cicada hawk has a very special way of dealing with the noisy cicada. Using a unique venom, the wasp paralyzes the cicada and brings it to a burrow to lay eggs on it. The cicada is still alive once the eggs hatch and the larvae eat the insect alive.

Cicada hawks aren’t cicadas’ only enemy. Judd said they expend so much energy making noise and searching for mates that they sometimes drop dead. 

“If you think about it, it's a lot of energy to make that noise," Judd said. "Imagine yourself trying to yell all day, you’d be pretty exhausted. They’re burning up their energy. Their whole adult life is basically to find a mate.” 

The cicadas’ only strength is in its numbers. Thousands of cicadas every summer ensure that another, noisier generation will be ready to rise in the years to come. Soon though, both of these insects will die off with their youngoverwinteringunderground, beneath our feet. Not until the heat of next year’s summer will we witness this alien game of hawk and dove again. 

Copyright 2013 KRCU Public Radio

Jacob spearheads KRCU’s local news effort. His reporting has been heard on NPR’ Morning Edition and All Things Considered, PRI’s The World, and Harvest Public Media. In addition to reporting, Jacob directs KRCU’s team of student reporters and producers.
Joshua Peters
Joshua is a student reporter writing for KRCU. After being born in Poplar Bluff, MO, most of his life involved moving all around the eastern portion of Missouri from Cape Girardeau to St. Louis, including a little place called Grubville. Joshua grew up learning how to interact with all sorts of people. He is undergoing his final semester at Southeast Missouri State University, majoring in Organismal/Ecological/Evolutionary Biology. Beyond the studio he enjoys passing time with his loved ones. Once graduated, his plans are to move to Virginia in search for a graduate school to continue his studies.
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