Love buzz: Acute shrill from Garfield County cicadas means mating season |

Love buzz: Acute shrill from Garfield County cicadas means mating season

A cicada latches onto some vegetation at Rifle Arch.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Some people might think the electric buzzing of cicadas is a nuisance. Others consider it like a soothing symphony.

What it truly is: a love song.

“What you’re hearing are the male cicadas,” Rifle’s Colorado State University Extension Agent Drew Walters said. “Those are the ones that are doing kind of that singing. And that’s done to attract females.”

According to a 2002 publication by CSU’s Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, the ancient Chinese revered cicadas as symbols of immortality. But, after spending years living underground, cicadas emerge in some parts of Garfield County, and they’re living out the very last weeks of their lives.

Like most insects, a cicada’s life begins in an egg, according to a CSU cicada fact sheet. Female cicadas lay between 200 to 600 eggs per batch. The batches are broken up into “ovipositors,” tube-like organs typically used by insects in the laying of eggs. Each one consists of about three to 16 eggs.

The cream-colored, typically cigar-shaped eggs are initially laid inside places like the slits of tree branches, plant stems or dead wood, the CSU factsheet states. The ensuing damage to the plant, meanwhile, is minor.

“After mating, the adult females lay their eggs,” Walters explained. “They actually lay their eggs into the stems — the plants. So it punctures and wounds some plants. That oviposition wound can cause some damage and causes twigs to break and die.”

Between 70 to 120 days later, a “pronymph” hatches and immediately sheds its skin, then burrows about 40 centimeters below the ground’s surface.

Then the “nymph” cicada will spend up to five years feeding on tree sap or various plant roots equipped with needle-like rostrums, CSU documents state.

Despite the abundant feeding of vegetation common among the larval stages, cicadas are not a major pest, Walters said. They’re so slow-developing, in fact, they don’t have any major impact on nearby crops.

Once they’re ready, the nymphs emerge from their long, subterranean existence and scale up a nearby plant, shed their exoskeleton and morph into adulthood. When they spread their wings, the cicadas must fend off natural predators such as birds and larger insects.

This is when the mating calls become ubiquitous, and the acute shrill emanates from adult male cicadas trying to woo adult female cicadas by vigorously clapping their wings.

The CSU cicada fact sheet describes the sound as a “soft rustling click, similar to that produced by striking together two coins.”

“This is the clicking sound that is often heard in the trees and shrubs in the spring into early summer,” the factsheet states.

The mating season occurs for about the next four to six weeks, and that’s when post-coitus is met with death. This length of time also depends on weather patterns, the CSU factsheet states.

“The cicadas we have in our area are shorter-lived than the more popular and, I would say, well-known cicadas — those periodical cicadas that have the 17-or 13-year lifespan,” Walters said. “Those don’t occur in Colorado, but ours are typically about three to five years, and sometimes a little bit longer.”

So where exactly in Garfield County can a person listen to these debatably euphonic pick-up lines?

“These cicadas have (developed) a founders population up by the Grass Valley Reservoir area, over by Harvey Gap” Walters said. A founders population is a population that results when a small subset of a large population is used to establish a new colony, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute. “That’s a good area.”

But remember: If you see a cicada, don’t call it a “locust.” According to the CSU factsheet, that term is properly used to describe grasshoppers.

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or

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