Insect Sounds

From the end of July until the frosts come, the days and the nights, especially the nights, are full of the sounds of insects calling. What is going on here?

On a warm afternoon, sit outside and listen to insect sounds. How many different insects do you hear? Do this again in the evening. When were there more different sounds?

Try to find one of these songsters. Listen carefully for where the sound is coming from. Walk slowly and quietly in the direction of the sound. Sometimes it helps to cup your hands behind your ears. Can you find the insect by following the sound? Watch carefully, you might get a chance to see how the sound is made. Does the insect rub wings together, or legs together, or what?

Sometimes it can be fun to try to identify the sound. For example, in the evening, a loud, pulsing sound from up in trees which sounds like "eh-eh-eh" is probably a katydid. The name katydid sounds like the noise the insect makes.

Many daytime noise-making insects are either grasshoppers (order Orthoptera) or cicadas (order Homoptera). Nighttime singers are usually other members of the order Orthoptera such as crickets, tree crickets, and katydids. There are some insect recordings you could listen to which would help. See if your library has any or search the Web at findsounds.com.

Why do you think insects sing? How many different reasons can you think of?

Imagine being a small insect, well camouflaged and hiding among huge plants. You have food and shelter, but you need to leave some young before winter comes and your life ends. How can you find a mate? You can advertise. For many insects it is the males who sing and the females who come and find them if they are ready to mate and like their song.

You could make a model of how this works by playing a game with a few friends. Play hide and seek where the hiders make a noise and the seekers try to find them by sound. Some kids play a game in the pool or lake called Marco Polo which works like this. The person who is "it" closes his or her eyes and calls out "Marco" and the other players have to answer each time by calling back "Polo." The person who is it must keep his or her eyes closed and try to tag the others without looking, just by following the sounds they make. Try it.

For great resources for learning more about insects, visit Entomology for Beginners or Gordon's Insect World.
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