Golden Drummer cicada.
Golden Drummer cicada (Thopha colorata)

I spent quite a few summers of my aimless suburban youth chasing Cicadas. Their songs – if the shrill electric chain-saw buzzing of cicadas can be called songs – were the background music of the season – a constant high thrumming through theĀ  long summer evenings of suburban Sydney.

Golden Drummer cicada - nymph stage
Golden Drummer cicada - nymph stage

We had all manner of names for them – the Green Grocer aka Green Monday, the Black Prince, Red Eye, Cherry Nose, Floury Bakers…the list went on.

After a few short weeks of giving us all manner of cheap and easy fun – they would be gone. We never bothered to learn much more about cicadas – and didn’t need to – they were just one of many fascinating critters that would provide us with all manner of fun during the course of the year.

I’ve not thought much about cicadas for a while but this year in Alice Springs – after a wonderfully wet year that has seen record rain falling in steady occasional cascades all year – we have been blessed with a glorious crop of Golden Drummer cicadas. In my street there are certain trees – mainly River Red Gums – that each have their own population of cicadas. Most of them are up high and if you look long and hard enough you can see them scattered and still along the branches.

By late afternoon they are well into their buzzing mass chorus and as you walk past a strange doppler effect happens – the sound shimmers and shift as you move past each tree. Then as the sound of one swarm fades behind you another comes into delicious aural focus.

Golden Drummers. Alice Springs November 2010
Golden Drummers - male above, female below. Alice Springs November 2010

Someone dropped me a tip to have a look at the Flickr photo stream of Macdonnelliensis where they have posted the following information on the Golden Drummer cicada:

After feeding on the roots of the River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camadulensis) – at least the common species in Alice Springs does – they emerge after seven or so years. They climb the nearest tree or house to about 1m high and then break open their exoskeleton and emerge in the later afternoon or early night as pale cream coloured winged adults and take about 40 minutes to change colour to their dramatic orange and black markings.

The males call loudly – very loudly. If you visit a waterhole with many River Red Gums the noise can be almost unbearable. The adults live for about 2 weeks. The males can be distinquished from the female by their distinctive vocal sacs on either side of their abdomen. They are easily picked off the tree.

The Golden Drummer Cicada is endemic to Central Australia – the southern region of the NT – usually restricted to the MacDonnell Ranges and large inland dry riverbeds in the area.

Another shot of a Golden Drummer
Another shot of a male Golden Drummer

There is a lot more that I don’t know about cicadas – and welcome your own thoughts and experiences – please feel free to post a comment, thought or excursion through the world of this most fascinating bug of the week.