Saturday, September 1, 2018

THE SOUND OF MOONLIGHT – Sensing the Pulse of a Late-Summer Night

I’m inspired today by naturalist Jim Gilbert’s column in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune. It’s about crickets, specifically the ones whose effervescent chee-chee-chee chorus bejewels these precious late-summer nights.


RIBIT OR CRICKET?
I’ve wondered about crickets my whole life. Not that I’ve done much about it. Mostly, as with so many of Nature’s ubiquitous small wonders, I’ve come to take their amiable background music pretty much for granted. I should do better.

One question I do ask myself is, is this really crickets I’m hearing, or might it be tree frogs? Here in east-central Minnesota, though spring peeper frogs sound quite similar to crickets, they generally sing only—as the name suggests—in the spring or early summer. Crickets are harbingers of late summer.

There’s also a difference in the quality of sound emanating from the two singers. Frog voices are a series of smooth notes ranging from sharp, bell-like dings to longer whistles, each one rising slightly. Cricket chirrs, on the other hand, because they're produced by rubbing its upper, serrated wings rapidly together, have a high-pitched grating quality and maintain nearly the same tone throughout each note.*
        House and field crickets are known
        more as soloists than choristers.


Another question: are these night-chorus crickets the same ones folks are used to finding in their homes? You know, the stocky mostly black or brown ones thought by many to bring good fortune? Not likely. Those are either house or field crickets known more as soloists than choristers.

The most common of our night-singing crickets here in the Twin Cities is the snowy tree cricket. They’re delicately built and mostly green.

             Listen to the Snowy Tree Cricket Sound

PART THERMOMETER
Snowy tree crickets definitely sing en masse—though just the males. With their individual songs blending into what sounds like one pulsing strain, it’s hard to tell whether there’s dozens or hundreds of the critters…or just one really big one.

Tree crickets are the ones thought to gauge the air temperature through the rhythm of their song. (Just count the number of pulses in 13 seconds, then add 40 to find the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit. By the way, I tried this last night and they were spot-on!)

    Here is a tweet we can—and must—believe.

Enough with the phenology. Though the facts are fascinating, I’m also moved by the intangible qualities of this summer-nightly cricket chorus. The peacefulness. The poetic possibilities. The reassurance, with this sweet sound’s constancy in my life, that somehow everything must be okay. That perhaps there is still hope for my own species…for this world.

And, certainly, as sinister forces do their damnedest to render suspect so much of what we once knew to be good and true, here is a tweet we can—and must— believe. If we're to save this precious planet from ourselves, we must notice tiny creatures like this, know their names, care about their well-being.


So are you as moved as I am to tune in your senses to cricket sounds? Why don’t we listen first to the whole ensemble, then zero in on one individual, track it down and shine a flashlight on it. Say hello to this incredible little performer. Thank it for the constant reminder of Nature’s astounding, eternally fragile beauty.

Let’s do it tonight!

   If moonlight could be heard, it would sound just like (crickets).
    
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE

* Cricket song is a result of stridulation, an insect’s rubbing particular body parts, called stridulatory organs, together to produce sound.

3 comments:

jean said...

I had no idea that the black house cricket was not what was making the outside alive with sounds every night! So fascinating! Have you heard the cricket songs slowed down so that they sound like human voices singing in a choir (or angelic voices :) ? Nature is just so full of surprises! I don't have the link but I am sure you can google it.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Not sure which ones comprise the chorus where you are, Jean, but here it seems it is the snowy tree cricket. Yes, I have heard those cricket "voices" sounds -- amazing!

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