Identifying our local Cicadas

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!

Pauropsalta rubristrigata

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 to audio sample 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.


listen to audio sample 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.

Black Squeaker?

listen to audio sample 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.

listen to audio sample 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.

Cicadeta spinosa

Cicadeta spinosa

listen to audio sample 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.

15 responses to “Identifying our local Cicadas

  1. What a great post – I have been puzzling over Cicadas all summer! It’s going to take me some time to digest all of this but the info is truly terrific. Good to have you back.

  2. Geoff – I was hoping YOU would be able to identify some of these critters! 🙂

    • Hi Andrew – you are well ahead of me in the Cicada ID stakes and your provisional judgement looks pretty spot on – keen to catch up over a coffee though!
      Cheers, geoff

  3. Hi Andrew,

    Nice posting. I’ve been working on cicadas for over 12 years and I can see that you’ve basically got all the ID’s right. Great work!

    Your species 1 is Pauropsalta rubristrigata.

    Species 2 is in the P. encaustica complex and may be P. infuscata (I’m still confirming the exact placement of P. infuscata).

    Species 3 is C. spinosa for sure and it is a very widespread insect that also occurs in south-eastern South Australia.

    Your ‘ticking’ call variation is a different species in the Cicadetta tigris group (Cicadetta group III on my website) and it may be the Ferny Acacia Cicada (if it is then it’s an interesting record). You can hear the distinct wing-snapping in the recording.

    Keep it up. Would be great to hear of any more cicadas that you find.



    • Hi Lindsay,
      I’m honored you’d take the time to reply in such detail. Many thanks!
      Your id’s have clarified the picture – although I’m still unsure now whether we actually have P. mneme in the area, or whether my other pic is just a P. rubristrigata again.
      I read that Max Moulds believes there may be around 700 cicada species in Australia, and that many have yet to be described. All the best for your work in this area.

  4. Hi Andrew,
    The kids and I have been catching for around 20years in the Sydney region and you are correct with your IDs as Lindsay has already stated. We have both 2 and 3 here- Pauroposalta and Cic spinosa. Was great to hear spinosa again as we have them reported from Western Sydney.Lindsay and I have heard P rubristrigata around Lithgow (NSW) and it’s reputed from ACT. Love one if you get the chance to catch it next season.
    Well done; great work with the recordings,

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  7. Lindsay Popple

    Hi Andrew,

    Just a follow-up on my earlier post from a few years ago, the ticking call variation that you describe under Species 2 is actually a Murray Acacia Cicada (Clinopsalta adelaida, formerly known as Cicadetta adelaida).



  8. Julianne Vincent

    Hello, I have been trying to identify a cicada I found in my Adelaide garden and it closely resembles a pauropsalta mneme (after close discussion at the SA Museum). However, the sound that it makes in ONLY a tick (per second…). We have no other cicadas to mask it. Have pics if anyone is interested.

    • Hi Julianne, thanks for your note. I’m no cicada expert but we have a few local folks with interest and expertise who I reckon would like to see them. Would be happy to pass on the pics.
      Cheers, geoff

      • Julianne Vincent

        Thank you for your interest. I am originally from Sydney, and have been in Adelaide for 30 yrs. This is the first cicada I have ever seen or heard in Adelaide. It’s around 35mm in length and ticks…. not really fast – but then I am not sure how many individuals were ticking at the time!! This one landed on my husband’s hat when we were gardening which is why it came to be noticed.

        On Sun, Aug 18, 2013 at 12:35 PM, Natural Newstead wrote:

        > ** > Geoff Park commented: “Hi Julianne, thanks for your note. I’m no cicada > expert but we have a few local folks with interest and expertise who I > reckon would like to see them. Would be happy to pass on the pics. Cheers, > geoff”

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  10. I am hearing a sound near Cobargo NSW that is reminiscent of a Glossy Black Cockatoo. I heard the call of the Empress Cicada on Anne Jones ABC program and it was close to the sound that I am hearing. The sound came from above my head and from two almost opposite directions.

  11. I’ve tracked down the call I was hearing near Cobargo. It was a Bleating Tree Frog

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