SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Sometimes the buzz may be so loud, it’s hard to hear the person next to you but to Eric Sazama, the sound of cicadas is not annoying.
“I love the sound. As soon as I hear cicadas I think, ‘This is really summer,'” Sazama said. Sazama is an assistant professor of biology at the University of Sioux Falls. He has a keen interest in insects including two familiar insects of summer- cicadas and fireflies or lightning bugs.
To use what he called a cheesy term, each insect has a role “in the circle of life,” Sazama said. No matter how brief their lives are.
Fireflies and cicadas spend a good portion of their brief lives as larvae. Fireflies feed on nutrients in rotting logs and leaf littler.
“The larvae grow up in a rotting log. They will eat other insects, ” Sazama said.
Cicadas live underground. When they are young they suck nutrients from tree roots. When they reach adulthood they emerge and feed on sap from any type of tree, Sazama said.
“(Insects) consume nutrients and they transfer those nutrients to themselves. They deposit those nutrients when they die. They serve as a bridge to a different ecosystem,” Sazama said.
Between birth and death, the public gets to see and hear fireflies and cicadas. People see the two insects in their adulthood.
Fireflies emerge in early to mid-summer, Sazama said. “If we have a mild winter they may come out sooner. You usually see them around the 4th of July.”
Fireflies may be out with their lighted rear ends before July 4 but many people won’t see them until then, he said. People may travel to a lake or other unpopulated area on July 4 which makes it easier to see fireflies.
If residents of Sioux Falls or other larger cities aren’t seen fireflies in the evening, it’s not necessarily because they are fewer of them, Sazama said. Fireflies like woods and prairie and darker areas which aren’t plentiful in most urban areas, he said.
It may be more likely to see a firefly on the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus than in a backyard.
Cicadas need trees. “It doesn’t appear that they have any preference for particular trees,” Sazama said.
Working with the cicada buzz
Billy Schlottter and Lisa Babcock were working on an outdoor table on the USF campus on the morning of July 27.
Cicadas buzzed in the trees around them.
The sound of cicadas remind Schlotter of power lines. “I equate them with the sound of power lines,” he said.
Both have seen fireflies in their yards this summer.
“Most summer evenings (lately) I’ve seen them,” Babcock said. “There might be more (this year). I wouldn’t say there are less.”
Schlotter lives in Harrisburg near a farm field. It’s likely one reason he sees fireflies.
It’s the way they communicate
The rear ends of fireflies light up so that the insects can communicate with each other, Sazama said.
Cicadas make noises for the same reason, he said.
“A lot of it us to attract mates,” Sazama said of fireflies.
The buzz of cicadas is also a way to attract mates.
Fireflies may fly in a pattern as a way to communicate with other fireflies. The patterns are a way “community differently” with other fireflies, Sazama said.
“Insects are a lot more advanced then we give them credit,” Sazama said.
The buzz from cicadas happens because of the timbal.
Sazama said the timbal is a membrane in the cicada’s abdomen on it’s exoskeleton. Cicadas have timbal on each side of their body. The cicada vibrates the membranes to make the noise.
Males make the noise. “A male doesn’t have the reproductive structure,” Sazama said. Because of that the male has room to expand his stomach.
The vibration noise reverberates in the male cicada’s stomach. The larger the stomach, the louder the noise, Sazama said.
“They try to be as large as possible,” Sazama said. The louder the noise, the more mates a cicada can attract.
The ability for a larger stomach is possible through genetics and available nutrients, he said.
Threats to fireflies and cicadas
In general, the fireflies don’t have many natural predators, Sazama said. “The mechanics for the lighting can be bitter and not too good tasting for predators,” he said.
But cicadas are very popular dish.
“Cicadas are like a buffet…,” Sazama said. Even organisms that usually don’t eat meat will eat a cicada.
“It’s a good source of food,” he said.
Birds, other insects, even squirrels, have eaten cicadas.
“They all come out at the same time so they are a huge source of food,” Sazama said.
The same buzz that attracts a mate also attracts critters who want to eat them.
Urban development can reduce the trees and rotting logs that make attractive habitat for cicadas or fireflies, Sazama said.
Weather can also impact the life of cicadas and fireflies.
All insects have ebbs and flows in their population, Sazama said.
So far, he’s seen no evidences the numbers are down in this area with either of the two insects.
“It would be a really sad day if you went outside in the summer and it was all silent, without the sound of cicadas,” Sazama said.