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.
cicadaCicadas 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. 

cicada shells

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 (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!

Have you heard cicadas sing?  Do you like the sound or hate it?

 

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Comments

  • Guest
    julie whitmarsh Wednesday, 06 September 2017

    I love the Cicadas and excitedly listen out for them starting to 'kss' too - this summer at times they were deafening, but in some ways it is the most calming noise I know - similar to waves on a beach it just lulls me & the area seems so quiet when they stop. Look forward to hearing them again next year now #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    GGG Sunday, 30 July 2017

    They are definitely loud enough to interfere even with conversations! But I do love them, and after awhile they just blend into the background as pleasant white noise...

  • Guest
    Janet T Thursday, 27 July 2017

    I'm not sure if I have heard cicadas in person but I know the sound from TV and film. I probably heard them in Africa but it's kind of white noise. I love the souvenirs, they are really pretty. I would definitely buy one! Have a good August and I hope you get a break!

  • Guest
    Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net) Tuesday, 18 July 2017

    We have grown up with the sound of Cicadas every summer in the U.S., and were mildly surprised the first time we heard them abroad. It's funny how you think of something as a local thing, until you travel somewhere and find the locals there also think of it as their own. We don't seem to celebrate them as much, though, in Texas. I don't think I've ever seen ceramic Cicadas in our shops. We'll have to look for them the next time we're in France!

  • Guest
    Jonny (daisythebus) Sunday, 16 July 2017

    We love the "song" of the cicadas! For us, they are not only the sound of summer but the sound of the south (we don't have any in Luxembourg), another marker on our journeys around Europe. We won't hear any this year, but hope to get down to the noisy south next summer. #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Kimberly Sunday, 16 July 2017

    You are so right! Cicadas are the sound of summer. I am not a fan although I do like when I first start hearing them because that means it is summertime and I love summer!

  • Guest
    Laura | Little Ladies Big World Thursday, 13 July 2017

    I love that the inside knowledge of the date, isn't mother nature amazing? #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Katherine Forshaw Wednesday, 12 July 2017

    Made me smile that the French have a date for when you'll first hear a cicada singing! I for one love the sound of cicadas, grasshoppers and the likes. Our field is alive with the sound of them all through the summer :)

  • Guest
    June de Silva Tuesday, 11 July 2017

    Thanks for all that interesting and fascinating information. I'll make sure I listen very carefully on the 24th June, next year!

  • Guest
    jo Monday, 10 July 2017

    I love the sound of cicadas! It says summer and holidays to me! But how strange that they always appear on the same day - and that they can reach 120 decibels - ear plugs needed! What an intriguing creature and how lovely that they sing. Thanks for hosting #All About France and sharing the stories of your beautiful home!

  • Guest
    annette @ a french collection Monday, 10 July 2017

    Oh my goodness they are so loud outside my youngest son's bedroom. We often see the empty dry shells clinging on the bark of the trees near his window. Thanks for all that info, I have learnt more about these noisy insects :) I used to have, as a kid, those metal clicking insects but haven't seen them around much now. Great post #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Becks at Access Riviera Sunday, 09 July 2017

    I love the sound of cicadas and it reminds me summer is here! I remember as a child being scared witless by them because our childhood house was surrounded by trees and we'd find these ghostly empty shells stuck to trees. Becks #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Richard Sunday, 09 July 2017

    What a fine evocation of summer in Provence (and your photos, as always, are spectacular, too)!

  • Guest
    Janelle Wehsack Gould Sunday, 09 July 2017

    The cicadas were such a fascination for us when we first visited Provence back in 2008 - thank you so much for bringing back such great memories Phoebe. #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    CatherineRose Saturday, 08 July 2017

    I am not much for insects of any kind – maybe butterflies and fuzzy bumblebees if they keep their distance. But the singing of cicadas is certainly a distinct sound of summer. I haven't heard any in San Francisco! But then again, "summer" has an alternate meaning here (I wore a coat and scarf to work the other day!)

  • Guest
    Margo Lestz Friday, 07 July 2017

    Lovely article about the cicadas. I don't hear any in the city - they are replaced by the buzz of scooters... Or when I am in the Old Town and walk by a shop that has one of those motion-sensor ceramic ones. But I do like to get out into nature a bit and hear the real ones sometimes.

  • Guest
    Catherine'sCultural Wednesdays Thursday, 06 July 2017

    Well I never knew that about June 24, amazing. PS I quite fancy one of those ceramic cicadas #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Hilary Thursday, 06 July 2017

    I remember hearing them for the first time while living in Arizona, they were SO loud. I'm not a fan of insects, so I was happy just to hear them from a distance, but not actually see them! #allaboutfrance

  • Guest

    "They live high in the trees..." Yes, our back deck in Sydney is at tree top level due to the slope of the land and when the cicadas sing we cannot sit outside or even have the back door open they are so loud. However, I did learn after our first year of living in Sydney that the cycle is a seven year one, so we have a couple more years of relative peace before the earmuffs must come out again.

  • Guest
    Carolyne Thursday, 06 July 2017

    Hi Phoebe the sound of the cicadas is "pure summer" to me. Love your photos #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Abigail Wall Thursday, 06 July 2017

    What a lovely nostalgic post Phoebe! There aren't many cicadas in the suburbs of Paris even if I live right beside a bunch of fields but I do remember spending a night in a tent back when I was a teenager and the noise they made was so loud and I was such a city girl that it kept me awake the whole night :P

  • Guest
    Diane Thursday, 06 July 2017

    Just reading the name of your post gave me goosebumps. I think of cicadas screaming, not singing. Hate the things. One fell down from a tree into a friend's hair as a kid and it was a nightmare. Let's leave it at that. They give me the heeby jeebies. But I was happy to read your take on the insects. ;-) Thanks for hosting!

  • Guest
    Emily Thursday, 06 July 2017

    Well, I'm glad you reposted this one! I came in from work near midnight last night and was almost deafened by the noise of the cicadas. And how funny that it is the 24 June. How French! #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Melodie K. Thursday, 06 July 2017

    Likely I have heard cicadas singing before, Phoebe, but ~ born city gal that I am ~ did not recognize the sound. Could it be cicadas are the only insect I haven't YET seen in New Mexico? Anyway, those ceramic cicadas are so attractive; wouldn't mind seeing one of those around our home!

  • Guest
    Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me) Thursday, 06 July 2017

    I love the sound of cicadas. To me, nothing says 'holidays' more decisively! I never knew you could hear them in Australian cities. #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Harriet Springbett Thursday, 06 July 2017

    I'm so glad you posted this 'old' post. I love cicadas too, and had no idea they came out at exactly the same time each year. I wonder if things have changed since you posted this in 2012, what with the strange weather patterns of recent years? #AllAboutFrance

  • 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
    Rosie (GreenRosieLife) Monday, 10 July 2017

    Lovely to revisit this post and thank you for adding it to the 100th #AnimalTales I am dreaming of holidays in hot places now!

  • 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 https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1387893132181

  • 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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Guest Tuesday, 17 October 2017

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