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News | Arts and SciencesAugust 04, 2023

The Dog Days of...Cicadas?

Written By: Ian Silvester

The fall semester is right around the corner, but summer’s grip is strong, with a week of hundred-degree days and blazing sun. As you navigate every obscure-yet-shaded route around campus, you’ll likely hear a certain summer buzz flowing through the trees as Arkansas insects roughly as long as two quarters, sing their songs.  
The loudest of those singers are without a doubt the cicadas. Until spending a summer on campus, cicadas lived in my childhood memories of family trips to Texas and catching fireflies in my grandparent’s Little Rock backyard. But as I walked under the campus maple grove to a chorus of screams, I wondered who else had wondered and why the cicadas are so, well, loud. 
At the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, more than 80 species of trees inhabit the 168-acre campus – an official arboretum in its own right. Each tree provides a home to dozens of these reverberatory insects. The Lyric Cicada, the Scissor Grinder Cicada, and Superb Dog-Day Cicada, just to name a few, call the River Valley home. However, the oscillating buzzing and ticking song of the cicada does more than just drown out outdoor conversations. 
It’s a love song, albeit one played at the decibel level of a lawnmower, from a creature thousands of times smaller than the average Bad Boy Mower. Muscles pull membranes, called tymbals, which rapidly vibrate to create rhythmic calls, and groups of male cicadas synchronize their calls to attract their future mates. And once a love-connection is made, the male chirps another serenade. 
As I investigated these winged insects, I thought about walking outside during the summer and wondering to myself, “Is it just me, or are these bugs getting louder?” The answer is yes – cicada songs grow louder when it gets hotter. The friction created by the vibrating tymbal heats up the cicada, and for their chirping to reach a possible mate, they must get warmer than the outside temperature. Talk about the fires of love, am I right? 
Thankfully, as fall approaches, both the heat and the virtually constant humming of these bugs, will taper off.  

  • Tags:
  • Insect Behavior
  • UAFS Campus Green
  • Cicadas
  • Campus Wildlife