The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

Singing Cicadas of Summer

Cigales-potteryI love the sound of cicadas; for me it's the sound of summer, of lazy hot days when lying in a hammock or by the pool is the only thing you want to do. It's also a nostalgic sound conjuring up family holidays in Greece and Provence as a teenager and later my university years in Sydney. Now I'm lucky enough to live in "summer holiday land" it's the sound that heralds the hot weather, the end of school and the beginning of the long summer holidays.

When I first moved to the south of France, in April 2007, I was surprised not to hear any of my favourite Provencal insects. I asked a local why there weren't any and was told it was too early in the year; they started on the 24th of June. Deadpan, no hint of humour, the 24th it was! And I kid you not, I have heard the first one each year since on, or very close to, the 24th of June. Yesterday, when driving my son to his end of term music gala at 10.30 am we both shouted out "cigale" at the same time as we heard the familiar ssh ssh ssh ssh ssh. It was the 24th of June.

cigale 1Cicadas come out when the ground temperature reaches 22°c and although we've been having heat in the 30s for a couple of weeks I guess it takes time for the ground to warm up. They live off the sap of certain trees including oaks and pines of which we have a plentiful supply in the garden at Lou Messugo so we always have a resident few during the summer months. They sing during the hottest times of the day, often accompanying siesta time and can reach up to 120 decibels. This is technically loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss and is approaching the pain threshold if close to the ear but luckily they live high in the trees and stay away from human heads. Just when you think enough's enough and you can't bear any more, they stop and the silence is deafening! It's a male thing – it's the guys that sing and they like to raise all their nearby mates to sing along together in unison. They get louder and louder, trying to out-do each other and then they stop, altogether, just like that. 

Cicadas exist around the world – there are thousands of species - singing primarily in the countryside. However, in Australia, one of my "home" countries, they have uniquely adapted to live in big cities and Sydney buzzes to their sound. One of my favourite stories my Aussie mum tells of her childhood, is of catching cicadas and taking them to school in match boxes to bug the teacher (no pun intended!)

cicadasMany cultures have myths about these noisy creatures often symbolising resurrection, rebirth and immortality, but closer to home they represent the folklore of Provence. Jean de la Fontaine wrote his first fable (based on one of Aesop's) about a cicada and an ant "La Cigale et la Fourmi" (which incidentally was what my son sang about yesterday at his music gala, how pertinent!) You'll find souvenir shops from Nice to Nîmes via Montpellier and Marseille groaning with ceramic cicadas to hang on the wall, cicadas that sing, cicada table cloths, cicada this and cicada that. To some the song of the cicada is a deafening drone, to others it's hypnotic, but to me it's pure summer – simple as that!

Thanks to Jean-Pierre Vanhonsebrouck for the beautiful photo of the cicada







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  • Guest
    Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault Tuesday, 04 August 2015

    I too love the sound of cicadas and the merest hint of their call can whisk me off to hot holidays in Crete or Italy. I find them totally hypnotic.
    Popping over horribly late to say thank you for linking up with #AnimalTales and apologies for the delay - blame a storm wiping out our Internet!

  • Guest
    chickenruby Wednesday, 22 July 2015

    Thankfully we don't have them in Dubai but in South Africa they'd keep me awake at night, I'd try my best to to ignore them, but once I heard them I couldn't switch off from the noise

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 July 2015

    Luckily ours shut up at night! But even if they carried on I think I'd just sleep through it as it's just the background noise to summer here.

  • Guest
    Californian Mum in London Monday, 23 June 2014

    I'm ashamed to admit that I've never heard of cicadas. But it must be a really cool sound.

  • Guest
    Kanchan@The Intrepid Misadventurer Monday, 23 June 2014

    Wow! That was a beautiful post,Phoebe! Who knew...
    It's amazing how fine tuned our ecology is, and I'm glad that there are places like where you are where you evidence this so beautifully! I love your Provencal stories...written in such an engaging manner, too!

  • Guest
    Jen Monday, 23 June 2014

    How amazing to be able to pinpoint it to that an accurate date!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 23 June 2014

    It's crazy isn't it! I heard the first ones for this year today, the 23rd June - early!! ha ha :o

  • Guest
    bex @ the mummy adventure Monday, 23 June 2014

    Such an interesting post, I learnt a lot

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 23 June 2014

    Thanks Bex!

  • Phoebe
    Phoebe Sunday, 09 June 2013

    We called them "lokies" in Australia when I was a child and we took them into our classrooms. Not popular

  • Guest
    Tamara Saturday, 15 December 2012

    I have the same feeling about cicadas. They totally conjure up memories of long summer holidays spent exploring in my Toronto suburb. Wonderful post!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 17 December 2012

    Thanks Tamara! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Please come back again soon.

  • Guest
    Delia Saturday, 15 December 2012

    Wonderful story Phoebe and I love the photos! The second one is a real cicadas, right? and the other ones are little souvenirs make of wood? They look really cute :)

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 17 December 2012

    Thanks for your comment Delia. Yes the 2nd picture is a real cicada, the other two photos are ceramic souvenirs not wood. You can find them in all the souvenir shops around here.

  • Guest
    Rin Friday, 14 September 2012

    I want a painted cicada, they look so preet and it would go with our cockroach bought in Bangladesh!

  • Guest
    de bruges Tuesday, 26 June 2012

    Not to mention the very rare species here

  • Guest
    Phoebe Tuesday, 26 June 2012

    Thanks for this de bruges, I agree Minuscule is brilliant. I thoroughly recommend it to you all!:)

  • Tracey D
    Tracey D Tuesday, 26 June 2012

    Thanks for the interesting article, Phoebe. Cicadas definitely evoke fond memories of summer holidays ... lazy summer evenings, relaxed chatting with a bottle of wine. Lou Mesugo here we come!

  • Guest
    Drahcir Samoht Monday, 25 June 2012

    I really like this one, Phoebe. When you've got enough of them you'll be able to put them together as a lovely up-to-date book on living in Provence.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Tuesday, 26 June 2012

    Thanks Drahcir. I'm not sure I'm good enough to publish but I do enjoy writing these little blogs.

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