Micro-Season: “The Evening Cicada Sings”

We have entered the micro-season of “The Evening Cicada Sings”.  This is the first micro-season of the mini-season of First Autumn.  The micro-seasons within First Autumn are:

  • A Cool Wind Blows (Aug 07 – Aug 11)
  • The Evening Cicada Sings (Aug 12 – Aug 16)
  • Thick Fog Blankets the Sky (Aug 17 – Aug 22)

These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others.  No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you. 

As a way to celebrate this season, we will learn about the taxonomy of the cicada and listen to some cicada songs. After that, we will read some seasonal haiku by Basho, Issa, and readers of The Washington Post


The Cicada

Cicada is the common name for insects in the order of Hemiptera.  The insects within this order are commonly referred to as true bugs and there are over 80,000 species that fall into this grouping. Cicadas, planthoppers, and aphids are a just few of the species in this order.(1)

Moving down that taxonomic ladder, cicadas are part of a superfamily grouping called Cicadoidea. Cicadoidea is then separated into two families: Tettigarctidae and Cicadidae.(2)  The Tettigarctidae are also known as “hairy cicadas” and are ancient primitive cicadas. The Tettigarctidae are pretty much extinct except for two species that live in southern Australia and Tasmania.(3) The Cicadidae, or true cicadas, can be found across the globe and have more than 3,000 different species.(4)

Annual Cicada- Insects Unlocked, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Annual Cicada- Insects Unlocked, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
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Cicadas are generally described as stout insects with clear-membraned wings, broad heads, and compound eyes. Cicadas can range in size from 0.75 to 2.25 inches (2 to 5 cm).

Cicadas are most known for their distinctive sounds.  Sometimes the sounds are referred to as songs, while other times they are described as buzzes or ticks.  Cicadas make this sound by vibrating specialized membranes known as tymbals near the base of the abdomen. This process is different than grasshoppers and crickets who use stridulation, the rubbing together of specialized body parts, to make their song.(2,5) 

Male cicadas can produce four types of acoustic signals: songs, calls, low-amplitude songs, and disturbance sound. (4)

Below is an example of cicada songs from Greece

The sound of a tree full of Cicadas. Recorded in Stavros, Ithaca, Greece. July 2008.

The Evening Cicada

The Evening Cicada, Tanna japonensis, lives in South East Asia and is most often found in Japan.  This cicada is heard making its distinctive sound in the evening and early morning.

The typical adult male evening cicada will be about 1.1 to 1.5 inches (28-38 mm) in length.  The female will only be .8 -1.0 inches (21-25 mm) in length.  The evening cicada’s call has been referred to as melancholic.(7)

Here is an example of the evening cicada call. What do you think?  Does it sound melancholic to you?

A song of Higurashi (Tanna japonensis) Location :Asao Ward, Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Pref., Japan
Female of Tanna japonensis, in Yumihari Mountains, Toyohashi, Aichi prefecture, Japan. Alpsdake via Wikimedia Commons
Female of Tanna japonensis, in Yumihari Mountains, Toyohashi, Aichi prefecture, Japan. Alpsdake via Wikimedia Commons
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Haiku For The Season

Cicadas are usually thought of as late summer kigo or seasonal words. Although, cicadas have been associated with other seasons such as spring or mid-summer.(6)  When this happens the cicada haiku will have some sort of qualifier that shifts the season.

For this week’s haiku, I found several selections from Matsuo Basho and Kibayashi Issa.  I also came across an article from The Washington Post that had a few wonderful cicada haiku that I fit well into our theme.

Basho

stillness --
the cicada's cry
drills into the rocks.
(Translated by Robert Hass)
the cry of the cicada
gives us no sign
that presently it will die.
(Translated by William George Aston)
a cicada shell
it sang itself
utterly away
(Translated by R.H. Blyth)

Issa

autumn cicada-
flat on his back,
chirps his last song.
(Translated by L. Stryk)
cicada in the pine
listening to the sutra
is born
(Translated by David G. Lanoue)

In June of 2021, John Kelly a columnist for the Washington Post asked his readers to write their own haiku to celebrate the arrival of Brood X.  Brood X is the largest brood of the 17-year cicada that emerged in Pennsylvania and northern Virginia, Indiana, and eastern Tennessee during May and June of 2021.  Here are a couple of my favorite haiku from that article.

not at all subtle
the cicada’s mating call
same line always works
-Sari Grandstaff, Woodstock, N.Y.
Noisy cicada —
How short your time in the sun;
How long your silence.
-Donna Royston, Fairfax, Va.

If you want to learn more about Brood X and the periodical cicada, check out this interesting article by the National Park Service


I have one last haiku by Issa I wanted to share for today. This one, although not specifically about cicada, fits well into this micro-season.

even with insects
some can sing,
some can't.
(Translated by R. Hass)

An Invitation

Last week Leyde Ryan of Hourglass Poetry suggested that these micro-seasons could be writing prompts. I really like that idea!

So, if you are up for the challenge, write your own haiku or senryu using the cicada as inspiration. Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post.

I can’t wait to read what you write!


Resources:

  1. “Hemiptera”; Wikipedia
  2. “Cicada”; Wikipedia
  3. “Tettigarctidae”: Wikipedia
  4. “Cicadidae”: Wikipedia
  5. “Cicada”; Britannica
  6. “Cicada”; National Geographic
  7. “Tanna Japonensis” Wikipedia
  8. “Cicada” World Kigo Database
  9. Silence” World Kigo Database
  10. “Brood X” National Park Service
  11. John Kelly, “Can you cicada-ku? Here are haiku — and other poems — in honor of cicadas.”, Washington Post

Basho haiku were found on Poetic Entomology: Insects in Japanese Haiku, Poets.org, and AllPoetry.com.

Issa haiku were found on Poetic Entomology: Insects in Japanese Haiku and David G. Lanoue HaikuGuy.com

Want to support our work? Visit the Naturalist Weekly bookstore and browse our curated lists of books of poetry and haiku. Or pick up a gift card that can be used throughout the store.   

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53 thoughts on “Micro-Season: “The Evening Cicada Sings”

Add yours

    1. Yes, they are a sure sign of summer. My relatives live in parts of Virginia and North Carolina and the cicadas were are common noise when we went on summer vacations!

  1. I have written 6 cicada haiku over the past 7 years are so. Here is my first one:

    sound of cicadas
    and lounging in a deck swing—
    summer in the south

    I have really appreciated your great work on these mini-seasons. Each one has been informative and inspiring.
    LaMon

    1. Hi LaMon, Thank you for your kind words and sharing this haiku. I have fond memories of my grandmother’s porch swing and the sound of the cicada. So I really connect with this one. Thanks again for the comment and sharing. I hope all is well.

  2. I so enjoyed this full and comprehensive celebration of cicadas, Mark. I was glad to be reminded of the cicada season, as I moved recently and where I live now I hear no cicadas, so I was glad to be reminded that they are no doubt making a racket at my former home. I always love hearing the cicadas…what a strong and unique sound! I enjoyed all the sound clips, your narrative, and the WP article too. I love the ancient haiku especially, thinking about how many centuries ago they were enjoying the gift of cicadas. Thanks very much, Mark.

    1. Hi Jet, I totally agree with comment about thinking about how many centuries ago people were doing the same thing! That really is pretty cool. I glad you enjoyed the clips. Adding sound to a post was a new thing for me and I am glad it worked. Thanks for the continued support and the kind words! I hope you have a great weekend.

    1. I llike this! And what an interesting thought about the impact of a boom in cicada contributing to an increase in cicada predators the following year! I wonder if there is a study about that? I’ll add that to my research list! Thanks for sharing your poetry and the comment. Have a great weekend!

    1. Yes, so true! It is really interesting how many people have memories connected to this little insect. Fascinating. Thanks for the comment and have a great weekend!

  3. Even as I read your post, Mark, I can hear the cicada’s song in the trees. Here’s a haiku, which was published previously.

    late summer
    seen through her hair
    a cicada’s shell Wales journal, Summer 2021
    ~Nancy Brady, 2021

    1. This is a lovely haiku and congratulations on it being published in the Wales Journal! Thank you very much for sharing and commenting. I hope all is well and have a great weekend!

    1. Hi Sue,
      Yes! The noise of the cicadas can be deafening. I bet it would drive you inside. Thanks so much for sharing your poetry! I hope you have a great weekend.

    1. How interesting! You are right that birds often become quiet when the temperature gets too hot. Thanks for sharing the link about the Wood pigeon. I am looking forward to learning about a new bird!

      1. I just looked them up because I wasn’t familiar. It turns out that the Collared Dove doesn’t live in the Northeast of the US. That is why I didn’t know them.
        I did hear a bunch of Mourning Doves this morning.

  4. To me an Australian summer isn’t complete without the sound of the cicadas! I was really surprised at the stark difference between the two recordings. I am use to the deafening sound like that of the Greek cicada and love it when we ring family in the UK with that noise in the background! The second recording is beautiful but much more subtle. I noticed that with our frogs in the dam; there is the boisterous, booming big male and then the ring-like sound of others to sleep by. Lovely post as always, Mark. Cheers, Lynn.

    1. Hi Lynn, Nice to hear from you! I agree that I am used to the cicada that sounds similar to the Greek recording. I was also a little surprised at how mellow the evening cicada recording was. Thanks for the kind words and I hope all is well. Talk soon.

  5. Hi Mark, great post – and yes, I do think they are musical, in fact, there is a new sound system/instrument that has been created – The Cicada acoustic synthesizer a physical synthesis that is able to transform electrical signals into mechanical vibrations.

    You can hear an example here – deeper reverberation than that of a living cicada!

      1. That is really interesting. I don’t know much about electronic music. But what I picked up from the video is that this new system is pretty revolutionary. It’s very cool. They even put cicada wing designs on some of the equipment.

    1. Hi Tracy, I am glad you enjoyed the reader haiku! I was excited when I found that article. I hope all is well and thanks for the comment!

    1. That is hilarious! I know my dogs perked up when I played the soundtracks in the house. But they just looked at me and went back to sleep. They were not that interested.

  6. Well done, Mark. Fascinating insects. I’m reminded of those rare summers of childhood when cicadas arrived at the farm en masse and drilled their imaginative drone into my youthful imagination. The elms and scrub oak would soon be garishly adorned with their dry husks which captivated me to no end On a weird side note, our farm cat developed at taste for the things and ate them ravenously. The haiku you’ve listed are superb. I have a couple of my own cicada-inspired haiku for you:

    (#82)

    Those cicadas know
    What lies ahead is better
    Than what’s left behind

    (#83)

    Desiccated husks
    Of bad memories remain
    Rattle restlessly

    1. Hi Mike, My grandparents lived in rural Virginia and I also remember the trees with the dried cicada husks. Definitely fascinating!
      I can’t believe your cat started eating the cicadas. That is too funny! I think that is the first time I have ever heard something like that. Thanks for sharing the haiku! Talk soon,

    1. Hi Dwight, Thank you for the comment. I am pleasantly surprised when these microseasons line up with what is happening around here. It doesn’t happen every time, but more often than not it seems to work. Thanks again and enjoy the cicada song!

    1. This is wonderful! Thank you for sharing. If we were judging this prompt you would get extra points for the creative use of “tymbals”. Well done!

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