Musicians of the Night

By late July, the Midwestern dusk has the sound of a disjointed orchestra, tuning up before the nightly show. The annual "dog-day" cicadas are winding down from an early evening peak but their rising clamour still rings through the neighborhood. The fiddlers, various crickets and katydids, deliver tentative, raspy tunes from their secluded outposts while an assortment of chirps, warbles and peents are provided by the late-day birds (cardinals, wrens and nighthawks, respectively).

As darkness settles in, the cicada racket and birdsong fade away and the fiddlers, as if responding to an unseen conductor, begin to call in unison, their loud buzz rising and falling in harmony. The night concert has begun and will continue into the early morning hours. The intensity of their "music" reflects the urgency of its intent, a desperate effort to attract mates before the season of heat and humidity comes to an end.

Most of these crickets and katydids hatched within the past two months and have spent the summer as ravenous juveniles, tiny replicas of their adult form. Once maturation occurs, they assume their brief musical career and devote themselves to reproduction. Though some survive the frosty nights of early autumn, the first hard freeze will end the reign of this generation and clusters of eggs, bearing the future of their species, will await the warming days of spring.