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Cicadas, Crickets, and Katydids: What Am I Hearing?

closeup of cricket on a leaf

The sounds of nature are beautiful and might either lull you to sleep or keep you awake. When you’re trying to figure out which bug is making that noise, there are some things to listen for.

Some chirping sounds in the night, if you’re near a pond or swamp, may not be bugs at all. It could be the spring peeper frogs, which you might mistake for crickets.

The Soothing Sound of Crickets

The sound crickets make is referred to as chirping, but they aren’t making the noise with their mouths. They’re also not making hose sounds with their back legs, as was once commonly thought. Instead, much like The Cricket In Times Square, they make noise by rubbing their wings together.

If you’ve ever run your fingernail along the tines of a comb and listened to the sound it makes, you have a bit of an idea of how a cricket makes its chirping sounds. Crickets have a thing on the tops of their wings called a scrapper that they use to rub along the bottom of the opposite wing. The bottom part of the wing is called a file.

There are different types of crickets, and depending on the species, both males and females chirp. In some species, only males chirp, and some males are silent. Like fireflies have specific flash patterns to send messages, crickets have chirp patterns that are meant to attract mates that are far away, court those that are closer to them, and they even have a song of triumph once they score a mate.

What may be even more impressive than how crickets make their sounds is that you might be able to determine the temperature by the bug’s chirps without a thermometer. Science and math work together for this task, which requires you to count the chirps of a cricket over three fourteen-second intervals, then averaging the amount out. By adding that amount to forty, you get an estimate of the temperature in Fahrenheit—Scientific American has the detailed instructions as well as info on how this works.

The Relaxing Chirp of the Katydid

While crickets seem only to have around three distinctive sounds they make, katydids have quite a few, and they are relatively easy to pick out from the sounds of crickets chirping at night. Many of the chirps from katydids are a deeper tone than crickets.

Here are some examples:

Some of the sounds almost seem like the bug is saying, “katydid,” which is likely where it got its name from. Both males and females of the variety of katydid species make sounds, which are used to attract mates or communicate with others of their species. They also use sight, touch, and smell for communication purposes.

Katydids look like leaves, in a way. It’s the camouflage the bug comes with. Some are green, and some are brown.

Like crickets, katydids make their many chirping sounds using their wings. They have a front set of wings that are used to make the sounds.

The Call of the Cicada

When a loud piercing noise shoots through the air, and you wonder if electric lines are buzzing, it’s probably just a cicada. Cicadas are so much a part of summer that Japanese anime films use the sounds of the cicadas to distinguish when it is summertime in their stories.

Cicadas make other noises than that buzzing wires sound. The basic sound the cicadas make is similar to a crickets sound, but not quite the same. Once you’ve listened to the differences, it’s easier to tell them apart.

Unlike the crickets and katydids, cicadas don’t use their wings to make sounds. They have little plates on the side of their torso that they vibrate. These are called tymbals.

Now that you’ve listened to these three different bugs, it may be easier for you to distinguish which one you hear when you step outside on warm summer nights.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »