The sizzling calls of cicadas are a familiar sound to anyone who has spent time outdoors on hot sunny days in late summer. Most cicadas sing from high in trees, making finding them a challenge. While they may all sound similar at first, their songs are all distinct and can be used to recognize species. I believe it is useful and fun to learn the calls of species that exist in your area. At the very least, it is a handy bit of trivia to have, and it’s also helpful in documenting biodiversity. With that in mind, here are the cicadas of Cornell University’s campus in Ithaca, New York. I have linked to recordings of each species from InsectSingers.com, a fantastic resource for cicadas.
Neotibicen linnei, the Linne’s Cicada, is one of the two most common cicadas to be heard at Cornell. This species sounds a bit like a salt-and-pepper shaker to me. Its rattling buzz can be heard here. Individuals are nicely patterned in green and black, and have a prominent bend in the forewings that is a helpful guide to distinguish them from similar species. However this is not definitive, as some populations have less of a bend than others, and this should be used in conjunction with other traits to conclusively identify a specimen.
Neotibicen lyricen, the Lyric Cicada, is the second of the two most common cicadas of Cornell’s campus. Its call is similar to the Linne’s but lacks the pulsations (hence the “lyric” moniker). It has been described as a syrupy buzz and can be heard here. I find that since these often drone on and on, they can become ‘white noise’ and fade from one’s notice easily. There is quite a bit of variation in the coloring of individuals. Around Ithaca there are two main color forms, known as N. lyricen lyricen and N. lyricen engelhardti. The former is patterned with greens, browns, reds, and tans while the latter is usually black with a very small amount of color on the pronotum, often in the shape of an anchor. These are not true subspecies and are better described as clinal variations. There are often intermediates in transitional zones such as Ithaca.
Neotibicen canicularis, the Dog-day Cicada, is present on Cornell’s campus, but is not as abundant as the first two species mentioned. This is a more northern cicada, found in Canada and the northern tier of U.S. states. Its call is a high-pitched whine sounding like a buzz saw, and can be heard here. Dog-day cicadas look very similar to Linne’s cicadas but are quite a bit smaller.
A few other species that I have not been able to document well here (or photograph) deserve brief mention:
I have heard Okanagana canadensis, the Canadian Cicada, numerous times around Cornell, but have been unable to find any. This is a very northern species on the southern edge of its range here. Males call from high in conifers. The call is an extended, cricket-like series of clicks (song).
Neotibicen tibicen, the Swamp Cicada, is a species that I think I have heard twice at Cornell, but both times were from quite a distance away. It is possible that these may have been Linne’s cicadas, as they sound rather similar (song). I will be listening for more this fall.
Finally, I must mention Neotibicen winnemanna, the Eastern scissor-grinder cicada. I heard this animal but once, at the edge of Cayuga lake in the early evening. However, there is no mistaking this cicada’s crazy call for anything else in the region. True to its name, it resembles the loud grating sound made by grinding scissors (song).