Twilight with Cicadas, Katydids and Fireflies

This afternoon a good summer rain with rumbles of thunder brought at least a short break from the very hot, sunny weather. The temperature didn’t drop much. Steam rose from the road when the sun came back out. But the rain was welcome, and by early evening the air felt comfortable enough to have dinner on the screened porch, serenaded by the songs of two Wood Thrushes. 

After dinner, I stayed on the porch as light faded from a clear, gray-blue sky. Birds gradually stopped singing, and even the hummingbirds stopped coming to the feeder. The trees lost their green and turned dark. Fireflies began to flash all around, rising from the ground, bringing their magic to the hour. As light faded, the songs of cicadas became louder and louder and louder, until they filled the air and the trees, almost deafening, shrieking, drowning out everything else. Louder at this time of day than at any other. They sang in waves, a chorus swelling from one direction, overlapping with another and another. 

Early twilight became full twilight, and sank toward night. I was listening especially, then, for a special moment, when the songs of cicadas fade and give way – to the songs of katydids. It happens quickly. An elusive point of change from day to night, like the turn of a tide.

And it came in deepest twilight, the sky barely gray, trees only dark silhouettes, lots of fireflies flashing. The cicadas barely slowed in their songs but in hardly more than a breath or two they began to fall quiet and the first few clattering songs of katydids rose, and then more and more katydids sang. Until it was only katydids and crickets and other night insects. A beautiful way to end a summer day. 

. . . . . 

Cicadas are fascinating insects, and even though we’re surrounded in their songs for much of the summer, I’ve realized that I know very little about them. From just a little research, I’ve learned that there are several different species in Georgia. Some are annual, meaning they appear every year, but some are periodic cicadas that emerge only every 13 or 17 years. The annual Dog-Day Cicada is probably what I’m hearing here during the daytime. Common in the hot, humid days of July and August, they are two-inch long green, black and brown insects that make loud buzzing calls. 

But I think the ones singing in twilight are a different species, most likely the Northern Dusk-singing Cicada. Despite its name, it’s most common in the Southeast. Their songs are really much louder than those of cicadas that sing during the day. 

Katydids are very beautiful, large, leaf-green insects related to crickets and grasshoppers. The wings of those I have seen look like fresh green leaves. Several katydid species live in Georgia, and the loudest are said to be the Common True Katydids. The oaks around our home are filled with their rhythmic clacking songs every warm summer night. The best article I found about both cicadas and katydids in Georgia is this piece by Charles Seabrook in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, April 21, 2017, Droning Katydids, Dog Day Cicadas Say August Is Here.

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