CO-Horts Blog

Monday, August 12, 2013

Summer Love Songs

By Carol O’Meara, CSU Extension Horticulture Entomologist, Boulder County

When insects sing their summer songs, love rises to a crescendo in the garden. Valentines day can’t hold a candle to the trills, chirps, clicks and drums that form a symphony of sound in the height of heat. Who are these plaintive lovers singing for romance? Bend an ear to the different calls and you’ll find love comes on many splendored wings.

Horn section
Dog Day Cicadas (Tibicen spp.) are well known for the band-saw-like serenades of males advertising their appeal. Resting on branches, occasionally sucking sap from twigs, the males call by vibrating a membrane, called a tymbal, in their abdomens.

The females pass judgment on male suitability by the quality of their song, but how they can distinguish one male’s notes from another is baffling when they sing in unison. Buzzing in concert with each other, male cicada song can be very loud, occasionally rising to shrieking pitch before quieting down.

Cicadas are often confused with locusts, but have a squat body with wide-set eyes and large, clear wings. You’ll find them gathered on trunks and tree branches late in summer.


Some insects use their wings in a modified version of a violin, holding one wing aloft while drawing the other over it. The wing acts as an amplifier, channeling sound into the night air to woo females close. Snowy tree crickets (Oecanthus fultoni) are one of the most beloved night singers in the region.

Thanks to Hollywood movies using their song as the epitome of night sound, these rarely seen crooners hang out in trees, shrubbery and vines. Chirping in concert with the heat, their song becomes faster as temperatures rise. Clinging to the undersides of leaf or branch, snowy tree crickets blend into surrounding vegetation and are difficult to spot. Look for pale green crickets with long antennae whenever you hear their call. Listen to it at the Singing Insects of North America site,

True Katydids (Pterophylla camellifolia) are newcomers to the Front Range music scene, bringing with them a unique file-on-metal sound females find irresistible. These raspy voiced Romeos are laid back musicians, slow moving and loath to fly, and can be found in the tops of deciduous trees. Singing solo, their song is often slow and easy, but in chorus the tempo is more upbeat with nearby males playing off one another to form a quick tune.

To find them, look for tall, narrow, green insects resembling a leaf.


Many arthropods use drumbeats from foot or abdomen to pound the earth and gain attention, including wolf spiders, Mormon crickets, or grasshoppers. Their repertoire isn’t limited to simple beats; some use a combination of taps and rubs that keep up a percussive rhythm. The garden should be very quiet to hear this sound and many in urban or suburban yards will miss it altogether due to background noise.


No concert is complete without a diva, and female Culex tarsalis mosquitoes are headliners of sound. When Culex enters the summer stage, she sets off a whine no male can ignore. Using her wings to belt out a song, the female draws crowds of hopeful suitors to her side, where they form a cloud-like entourage to follow her about.

Like most prima donnas, gardeners would be better off without the antics of female mosquitoes, but they are a staple of summer evenings and serve a purpose in the larger food chain. If you choose to search for summer songsters, take precautions against being bitten by wearing long sleeves and slacks while out after dusk, and use repellants if they don’t cause you allergic reactions.


  1. There is nothing like hammocking at night with 'divas' buzzing around you face and crickets and cicadas 'playing' so loud that you can't hear the person across from you.--This is every evening in my backyard...earplugs please :)

  2. I love nature as much as the next person, but sometimes the Beatles just sound better than beetles and Buddy Holly and the Crickets sound better than Mormon crickets. Great post, Carol :)

  3. Late last night after the kids were put to bed a reoccurring mystery started outside in my backyard with the playing the musical opera of sorts. The ramshackle had just completed its evening show when a frequently triggered minuet occurred as a dance of pragmatic dunces. Said dear husband, "Locust." Said beautiful damsel, "Cicada." As a horticulturist I always balked the discussion, I should know this...Carol would know this!
    An urgent hammering of the doorbell pulls me to safety from my pitiful slaying of botanical nomenclature trying to uphold my unwieldy untruths. My neighbor aghast! He has brought me some misguided mail, with bug eyes to boot he frantically points down ward facing dogwood to the poses of variegated grace along my front porch. "That little guy is scary loud." Alas! it is he- the mysterious murderer of prideful glee. I must take a closer look. Slowly, I cautiously slide a piece of mail under its crazy large body, when attack! attack! A full on helicopter rage of fiery sound is upon us. Slamming its B52 sized body against house and pillar. The neighborhood is alerted to the frenzy with a blend of shrill screams of terror from our beautiful maiden and raucous laugher from our friendly neighbor.
    I take refuge inside the domicile, elated to be safe, sadden at my loss of unleashing a fact. It took time to summon the courage to go back out and see if the little guy was still arrest on my potted lemon tree. I finally go. He is gone. If Carol was here, she would know. I transgressed all my available gigabytes to transmogrify her www. Elated beyond a bounty of Palisade peaches I was at finding her love transgressions online. During my entomological terror, two things were apparent in distinguishing the disgruntlement of fact; the zeppelin took flight, and his wings were clear. I was more certain of this last fact than any other markers as I was sure it would be the last thing I ever saw!
    Thanks Carol, you are my hero!!!

  4. Having read this I thought it was very informative. I appreciate you spending some time and energy to put this short article together. I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

  5. Good post. It is really help to us. Its give us lots of interest and pleasure. Its opportunity are so fantastic and working style so speedy. Its really a good article. It gives me lots of pleasure and interest.

  6. Excellent information and facts. Only real difficulty I was basically receiving was viewing the pics. No idea exactly why.