Climate

Watch Sir David Attenborough seduce a cicada with the snap of his fingers


A Brood X cicada molts in Washington, DC. | Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

How to summon a cicada.

In the coming weeks, billions of periodical cicadas will rise up from the ground across the midwestern and southeastern United States. As they do, they’ll sprout wings, mate, and die within a few weeks.

If you live in an area where Brood XIII and Brood XIX cicadas are expected, you will not mistake their arrival. In addition to littering the ground with exoskeletons, in their frenzied quest for mates, cicadas make a ton of noise.

That loud buzzing sound is produced by a chorus of males, who sing together from the trees to attract females. Interested females respond with a quick flip of their wings, which produces more subtle clicking sounds. The males will then change their tunes and try to home in on the clicking females in order to mate.

It turns out that humans can summon — and dare I say, seduce — a male cicada by imitating those female cicada clicks. Why might you want to do this? Perhaps it could be helpful in collecting cicadas for a protein-packed meal. Up to you!

Esteemed nature documentarian and activist Sir David Attenborough demonstrates how to summon one. “I can imitate the female’s wing flip with a snap of my fingers,” Attenborough says in his unmistakably husky voice in this clip from a 2005 BBC program below.

By snapping his fingers, Attenborough draws the cicada toward him, closer and closer. And then the cicada jumps toward Attenborough, to continue the courtship in a more intimate matter.

“The noise is awful,” Attenborough says as the cicada hums sweet nothings into his ear.

Update, May 6, 12 pm ET: This piece, originally published in 2016, has been updated for 2024 with details about Brood XIII and XIX.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *