Whenever you get a huge group of 17-year olds together, you just know it's going to be loud. Really loud. It doesn't matter whether they happen to be humans or cicadas.

I guess one major difference is that 17-year cicadas make their huge racket only once every 17 years. 17-year old humans are going to make a giant racket a lot more than that.

However, this Spring, when the cicadas emerge from the ground here in Illinois and other Midwestern states, the noise levels they can reach are pretty astounding. MentalFloss.com says that the male cicada (they're the ones who make noise, not the females) can reach 120 decibels with its mating call.

To put in a comparison, I went to iacAcoustics.com, where they have a cool chart that shows what a certain decibel count sounds like. iacAcoustics says that 120 decibels is comparable to a chain saw, a thunderclap, or an oxygen torch. 120 decibels is louder than a car horn from 3 feet away, live rock music, a jet taking off, and a jackhammer.

And to think that's all going to be happening in your back (and front, and side) yard!

So how and why does a bug this size...

Getty Images

...crank out volume that can literally harm your ears?

Patch.com says that the male cicada does it by vibrating their tymbals:

...tymbals "are two rigid, drum-like membranes on the undersides of their abdomens." Newly adult cicadas are in a rush to mate because they don't live very long after that — three, maybe four, weeks. The females don't have tymbals and can't produce the same sounds.

In other words, female cicadas dig drummers. So the comparison to human 17-year olds continues. They gather together in crowds, they make a large mess, they crank out ear-splitting noises, one group is eager to mate with the other group, and the drummers get the girls.

The racket begins this Spring here in Illinois.


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