Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chattering Cicadas

Hey ya'll

I know this is at least one week overdue but the cicadas have finally come off the spreading board! As you may have noticed, the cicadas are a rather new type of insect to be featured on my blog and that is quite simply because they are a very rare sight in the city! Indeed since moving here from Bidor, the only time I ever saw one of these insects was perhaps when my father went through a face in which he was quite obsessed with golf. he brought me to the golf course one day and I happened to chance upon a pale blue specimen which startled me by dive-bombing into my face before clumsily fluttering away. I will admit therefore, that as a child, I had a rather strong aversion to cicadas. And why shouldn't I! They are large, they are big, they are noisy, and to top it off they have this ungainly tendency of crashing into human beings during the most unexpected of moments. To add to all of that, my parents (well meaning though they may have been) are unfortunately not as well read about these things as I was (or rather came to be) and utterly convinced me that the cicada was really a species of very large bee and as any child can tell you, bees STING!!!! As it stands, cicadas are really quite harmless. They do not sting, or bite, but have a long piercing mouth part which is used to penetrate the thick bark of trees for it to feed on the sap within during their short lives as winged adults. I suppose it might be possible that a person might be pricked by this offensive looking appendage of the cicada but if it has ever happened before, I most certainly have never heard of it, nor have I been "bitten" or "pierced" myself in anyway.

*Species Identification update* The Bat Cicada (Cryptotympana aquila ) no doubt the common name stems from the handsome black markings on its front and hind wings.  
The first Cicada was obtained at the Genting Highlands or rather, to be more precise, the cable car station just below it, and it was in fact by mere chance that I happened upon this creature as Ray and I were about to head home. I had initially thought it was dead, by the way it seemed to simply lay down on its back in the middle of the road, so you can imagine our astonishment when we picked it up and the insect protested most audibly with its shrill ringing cries which sound remarkably like a small animal in mortal pain. The sound, which is generated by male cicadas, is really produced by a flap like membrane underneath its wings (perhaps I will photograph it and show you some other time) and then amplified by the hollow chambers in its abdomen. The volume is surprisingly loud, even for an insect of its size, and not even when I stuffed it into my backpack, wrapped safely in a plastic bag, smothered by two layers of my underwear and clothes, could I stifle the raucous din it was generating. At some point the bus-driver shot me a dirty look (as if i might be carrying a baby in my bag) and I was afraid that he would refuse me entry onto his buss but fortunately the cicada decided at that very moment that its protests were in vain and followed me home most amicably where it lived in one of my observational tanks (I gave it the largest and tallest I had on hand) until it expired. As you can see, it is really quite brilliantly patterned with golden-bronze wing veination and dark black and brown markings radiating outwards from its thorax.

This second cicada was collected from Bukit Gambang which, incidentally I am told is located around Kuantan where the Lynas controversy is taking place presently. This insect, in contrast, was quite agreeable to being collected and consented to crawl on my hand and into a plastic container I had from its perch on the wall without uttering a single cry. This led me to summarize, rather crudely perhaps, that it must certainly be female, but since my knowledge on this order of insects is limited at best, I would not rely on my rough assessment of its gender if I were you. Conversely, however, I noticed one thing in common with most cicadas and that is the patterns of their flight. Strong though their wings may seem, they actually do not possess much surface area in comparison to the insect's stout and heavy body and this may seem to account somewhat for their haphazard flight. Indeed, place one of the larger of these insects on the ground and it will seem almost impossible for the poor thing to gain altitude. Instead the flutter about in loops and circles before landing awkwardly some small distance away. Toss them into the air, however, and they will almost certainly disappear into the distance. I wonder, if that is yet another reason why many cicada nymphs seem to crawl much higher up into the trees before molting into their adult forms (based on my observation of discarded cicada shells in the wild). 

Anyway, as I have mentioned, my knowledge regarding these insects is inadequate at best so you most certainly cannot rely on me to make any identification on their species. Perhaps, however, if any of you might be so kind as to lend a hand, it would be greatly appreciated. Of course, I shall first consult with Brittanie as her knowledge of cicadas far exceeds that of anyone I currently know. 


1 comment:

Eric Shackle said...

You may like to see a story I've written about Sydney's cicadas:

--- Eric Shackle, retired journalist in Sydney, Australia.

Blog: Nimblenoms.blogpost.com