If you’ve been in Florida for a couple of years, then you’re probably familiar with the buzzing sound of cicadas. Their electricity-like call can often be heard during the summer months, but the bugs themselves are rarely seen, earning them the nickname “Florida Fairies.” A new study has revealed that the nickname may be more appropriate than previously thought.
For centuries entomologists believed that the deafening and annoying buzz of cicadas were simply mating calls meant to attract females to males, but a team of researchers at Florida Gulf Coast University have shined new light on the ubiquitous summer sound.
“The idea that their buzzing is a mating call is absolute nonsense,” said Professor Gad Faro of FGCU’s para-entomology department. “In fact, cicadas don’t even mate: they’re immortal.”
So if the sound isn’t a mating call, then what is it? And why is it heard almost every summer?
“Simple,” said Professor Faro. “It’s powerful protection magic. The louder the incantations, the more powerful the spell. That’s why they drown out every other sound, and it’s also why hurricanes sometimes miraculously miss the state or do very little damage when they hit. The cicadas are Florida’s fairies. They’ve been able to keep us relatively safe for the past century or so, but with climate change creating severe weather in the Gulf and Atlantic, and with the decrease in cicada populations, Florida might be in for a wet and wild decade.”
Professor Faro’s study compares year-to-year data about apparent cicada populations and their audible volume against natural disasters and threats to Florida’s well-being, like hurricanes, tornadoes, and crop blight. The years where cicadas were loudest were also the safest for the state. But if the cicadas are indeed immortal fairies capable of casting powerful protection magic, how are storms, droughts, and midwesterners getting through?
“Pesticides,” said Faro. “It’s ironic; citrus farmers think that pesticides are keeping them safe from bugs, but really some of the ‘pests’ are keeping the farmers safe from everything else. Hurricane Irma and Rick Scott never would have been able to happen 50 years ago; the cicadas were too loud, and their magic too strong. But now? Well, they’re trying their best.”
All three members of Professor Faro’s para-entomology team at FGCU have been working overtime to bolster the cicadas’ numbers in time for hurricane season, but the bugs’ mythical nature has made it difficult.
“If I could create immortal fairies, I wouldn’t be working at FGCU,” said Faro. “That’s a UF gig. All we can do is keep the ones we have happy and try to attract others from Georgia and Alabama.”
So next time the buzzing drone of cicadas drowns out your TV, don’t get annoyed. Instead, thank your lucky stars that those little critters are out there, performing ancient magical rites so you don’t have to.
Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/fritzflohrreynolds/