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As I mentioned in my last post, I have come to notice variations in a cicada’s song (pitch, timbre and rhythm) depending upon geographical location. After a bit of searching on the net I found that a number of studies into cicada song structure and geographic variation have been made, including this one that documents variations of the time and frequency domains in the calling song among specimens across Europe.

Considering they are one of natures more consistent noise-makers, I often find myself recording cicadas whenever I travel. I feel they play an important role in defining the soundscape in which they belong, thus make for good recording material to define a geographic location. It’ll be no science paper, but over the coming weeks I’ll try my best to showcase the differences that I have heard (and recorded). I’ve already presented the sound of Summer in France, and next up we’ll listen to cicadas in Asia.

The first time I heard a cicada was when I visited Japan back in 2001. Sadly, at this time I didn’t have a recorder with me (at the time I was using a Sony MiniDisc but stupidly forgot to take it with me to Japan) so I don’t have any recordings to refer to. But I do specifically remember the strong impression the noise left on me. It was another seven years before I encountered cicadas again when, in 2008, I spent two weeks in Nepal. During our stay we did a seven day trek along the Annapurna circuit in the Himalayas. Over the seven days we passed through incredibly diverse environments. Each day we would trek for between 5 and 7 hours, so we covered a fair amount of ground. But it seemed that everyday we would pass through a completely different environment than the one we were in the previous day. Farmland, rainforest, padi fields, icy mountain-scapes, villages, dense jungle. As our senses absorbed and analysed the elements of each new environment, one aspect that remained fairly consistent throughout was the sound of the cicadas.

Before setting off on the trek, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I had no idea we’d be passing through tropical environments. It wasn’t like I was expecting to be wading through thick snow, but I honestly thought that at the altitudes we’d be reaching there wouldn’t be enough warmth to support insects such as the cicada. The highest altitude we climbed to was 3200 Metres, which we reached very early in the morning to witness sunrise. At this time it was too cold for cicadas to be heard but later that day, during the descent, cicadas were once again very abundant, even at a substantially high altitude.

A bit later on in the trek, I managed to get quite close to an individual cicada that was singing away on a tree trunk. I hit record on my handheld, but only got under a minute of recording done before it flew off. It’s quite interesting to hear the detail in the sound.

The sound made by the cicada is constant and doesn’t stop at all, but it goes through two distinct cyclic phases. The first is slightly more intense in terms of amplitude whilst the frequency (pitch) remains constant whereas the second is slightly less in terms of amplitude but the frequency increases over time.

Comparison Between Nepalese And Mediterranean Cicada

If you haven’t already listened, I featured a recording of a Mediterranean cicada chorus taken in the garden of a farmhouse in Provence, France (World Sounds #028). I thought it would be interesting to have a quick look at the differences between that recording and the one taken in Nepal. The two images below come from a spectral analysis using iZotope RX.



In terms of frequency, both are in a fairly similar range. This can be both heard in the recordings (both have approximately the same pitch) and can be seen using the spectrogram. However, the big (and fairly obvious) difference here is the rhythmic pattern. The cicada chorus in Nepal was a constant soundscape with no obvious rhythmic pattern whereas the Mediterranean chorus has an obvious rhythmic pattern to it, which can be clearly seen in the spectrogram.
As I have already mentioned, this is no science paper, but I do find it interesting to look at (and listen to) the differences across the globe. Next up I’ll be featuring some cicada recordings I made in Thailand.