It is cicada season, and the sound of strident buzzing comes from bush and suburban street. But which species are we hearing in our local area?
After listening closely to their calls, tracking them with the camera (attempting to ‘add a face to the voice’), and close reading of Dr. Max Moulds’ excellent ‘Australian Cicadas’, my conclusion is… I’m not really sure.
But I’ll share what I’ve worked out so far, and maybe others more experienced than I can offer their knowledge!
Dr. Moulds’ book lists 6 species occurring in central Victoria (there are a few other rarer or vagrant species found in areas of northern and western Victoria such as Little Desert, Swan Hill or Mildura, but I’m going to discount those as unlikely here). All of our local species are essentially black, with only minor other markings (usually red or orange).
The first species is a doddle to identify. It is large, has blood red eyes, and a highly distinctive call. The song of the Redeye, Psaltoda moerens, is a loud, throaty rasp, lasting maybe 30 seconds, starting quietly and amplifying before being interspersed with a sequence of ‘yodels’, and then rasping again until fading out. They often call in chorus, one starting its neighbours off.
|Listen up close to a Redeye call (with unidentified Species 1 and 2 in the background).|
Of the remaining five species, three are medium-small cicadas (about the size of a first finger joint):
Pauropsalta rubristrigata, sometimes known as the Great Montane Squeaker, occurs throughout central Victoria but is noted by Dr. Moulds as ‘usually uncommon’, and with no call description.
Pauropsalta mneme, whose common name is ‘Ticker’, and is described as ‘at times common’ and ‘very active, particularly during the period around 20 minutes after sunset’. Their call is noted as variable, and consisting of a strident hiss and a series of crisp ‘ticks’, and
Cicadetta spinosa. This is a species which, although on the edge of its distribution, I am pretty certain occurs here. Its unusual song is described as a spaced succession of short creaks.
The other two are tiny, little things (the size of your little fingernail):
Pauropsalta encaustica, known as Black Squeakers, often a locally common species, and widespread in Victoria but mostly found in coastal districts or near the Murray River. Finally we have,
Cicadetta waterhousei, with the delightful name of Smokey Buzzer. This species is apparently more a grassland than a woodland cicada, with a continuous, buzz-like call.
So how do these compare with what I’m hearing and seeing in our local bushland?
I can recognise 4 species. With the Redeye obvious, that leaves 3 to identify…
Species 1) This cicada is a medium-small critter. Numerous and ubiquitous, they call from dawn till dusk on warm days, with soft rasps delivered in staccato rhythms.
|This is one of the most commonly heard cicadas locally (there is also a ‘Species 2’ in this recording too)|
Species 2) A tiny cicada with very high-pitched and easily overlooked call, but also quite common. Their song seems continuous, but closer listening reveals it is quite changeable in texture and pattern.
|Their usual call is like this (it is very high-pitched, you may have to concentrate to hear it) (… and incidentally, there is some quiet Grey Thrush subsong in the background)|
However I have recorded a variation call including ‘ticks’, and I am not sure whether this is the same species doing a variation, or another species altogether.
|The ‘ticking’ call variation – a different species?|
Species 3) This cicada makes a distinctive and rapid series of clicks, like a ratchet. It is a medium-small cicada, with noticeable ochre markings, and is not as common here as the other species.
|Solo ratchetting cicada|
So, which is which? Here’s my current best guess…
Species 1) After much chasing around, I am inconclusive about this one. I think it is Pauropsalta mneme, the Ticker, but it could be P. rubistrigata. The photo above is of one that was calling, and I believe it looks closest to P. mneme. Also, Dr. Moulds’ comments that Pauropsalta rubristrigata is usually not common. However, just to add confusion… I have recently photographed what I am reasonably certain is a P. rubistrigata (pic at top of article), but didn’t heard the individual calling to correlate it with what I’m hearing. So I’m pretty sure we have rubistrigata in the area too, but I don’t know what it sounds like!! It remains quite possible that P. rubistrigata is the source of all the calls I am associating with Species 1)
Species 2) I think is Pauropsalta encaustica, the Black Squeaker. Once again as it is common, and the other occurring species prefers grassland habitat. It looks similar to the picture in Moulds, and I’ve usually observed them on lower branches, exactly as Dr. Moulds describes.
Species 3) is Cicadetta spinosa. The call is distinctive. I’ve recorded this same cicada near Dubbo, and C. spinosa occurs west of the ranges all the way down through NSW to Little Desert in Victoria. I’ve also photographed one and it looks right.
So this is what I’ve come up with so far… It is probably confusing and not much help at all! But it is good fun chasing these little critters around. If anyone can clarify with better knowledge, please get in touch, I’d love to know. I’ll update this page with any new insights.