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Cricket Radio: Tuning In The Night-Singing Insects

The sounds of the deep night: Decoding the mysterious and wondrous songs of insects.

(me'nthedogs/Flickr)

(me'nthedogs/Flickr)

The first day of Spring is just around the corner now.

We’re dreaming of warmer days – and nights. Summer evenings. Front porch, bark yard, lazy twilight, and the sounds of a summer night. Bug sounds. My guest today has them all.

The sound of scores of different breeds of crickets and katydids. The summer symphony of chirping and whirring and wonderment. All the sounds – and what they mean. The calling. The courtship. Cricket love and cricket death match.

This hour On Point: Sounds of a summer night — the secret language of bug love.

- Tom Ashbrook

Guests:

John Himmelman, author of nearly 70 books including “Guide to Night-Singing Insects of the Northeast” and “Discovering Amphibians: Frogs and Salamanders of the Northeast.” His new book is “Cricket Radio: Tuning in the Night-Singing Insects.”

More:

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  • http://identify.us.com IdentifyUS

    The sounds of summer. A chorus of cicadas in the trees on warm days… and mosquitoes singing in the ear at night. Refrains (some pleasant, some not) after too many months listening to the scrapes of snow shovels and plows.
    -Rich Pollack

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      An observation: When I was interviewing some inner-city high school students who were visiting Martha’s Vineyard for the summer, a few of them mentioned that they couldn’t stand the sounds of crickets at night.

      “It sounds like an axe murderer is going to get me.”, one girl said in a serious tone. These kids claimed to be much more comfortable with the sounds of sirens, car horns and trains in the background, the very same cacophonous urban sounds that drive me to distraction. Must be a matter of nurture over nature.

      I grew up with the sounds of wild critters chirping outdoors and still enjoy a summer symphony of cicadas. It’s deeply comforting to me.
      Thanks for a great show today.

  • http://moreover.myopenid.com/ moreover

    In 1985 I toured a Max Planck Institute in Seewiesen near Munich, Germany. Their sole focus was how crickets find their mates. Apparently crickets are great “guinea pigs” because their neural networks are fairly simple.
    Martin in Arlington, MA

  • http://moreover.myopenid.com/ moreover

    In 1985 I toured a Max Planck Institute in Seewiesen near Munich, Germany. Their sole focus was how crickets find their mates. Apparently crickets are great “guinea pigs” because their neural networks are fairly simple.
    Martin in Arlington, MA

  • Jim

    Here in Austin, TX, we see huge numbers of crickets in the summer, especially just after it rains. Go for a walk at night and you see them crawling on the sidewalks, on walls. Once while at a gas station I was swarmed by them; one actually flew into my gas tank. Frankly, they have become pests, though they are totally harmless.

  • Jim

    Here in Austin, TX, we see huge numbers of crickets in the summer, especially just after it rains. Go for a walk at night and you see them crawling on the sidewalks, on walls. Once while at a gas station I was swarmed by them; one actually flew into my gas tank. Frankly, they have become pests, though they are totally harmless.

  • Geophany

    Is it true that you can just about tell the temperature by the speed of the crickets’ song?

  • Kevin

    Do we know anything about insect sounds beyond the frequencies audible to the human ear?

    Kevin

    • Kevin

      I bet they make good radio.

  • Zeno

    Are the hotter summers in the North East reducing the number of these insects…or are the quieter nights now due to pesticides?

    • Sprngvale

      I’m in central NY, and my nights are silent in the summer. I’d like to know where the crickets and all the other night sounds have gone?
       

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joanie-Gentian/610374005 Joanie Gentian

    Tom, lots of sphagnum bogs around, here’s one with a nice encircling boardwalk in nearby Amherst,NH http://bit.ly/g9Zrmn

  • JH

    I remember many years ago, one night in georgia, the sound of cicadas was so loud, it got on my nerves so bad that I went outside and kicked the bushes to shut them up. Extreme, I know. But it worked, for a short time at least.

  • Charliew

    Are you ever going to talk about counting cricket chirps for 15 seconds and adding 37 to get the temperature in farenheit?

  • Lynda_star

    Old enough to remember Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and I always look forward to hearing the night-singing insects that reassure me that we are still alright. My Dad once was driven crazy by a katydid outside his bedroom window. He hunted and hunted but could not find it and finally gave up – shouting out his bedroom window “NO SHE DIDN”T” He then put in earplugs to fall asleep! Love those bugs! Lynda

  • Brandy from Missouri

    I’m glad there is not a breeze blowing through the office or I think I’d be out like a light. The sounds of summer mixed with no sleep with a new baby has me longing for my hammock and a good free 4 hours.

  • Rob Dunlavey

    What a great show! I have a dreadful crazy question: There’s a wonderful (?!) little cricket I run into late in the summer that I believe is named The Handsome Trig. How on earth did it get this name. I live in Natick, MA.

  • BHA in Vermont

    The first time I heard Cicadas was on a business trip to Atlanta 30 years ago. I had NO idea what the noise was, it sounded like REALLY LOUD buzzing telephone wires. It wasn’t until I saw one on the sidewalk that I figured out it was a LOT of insects in the trees making all that noise.

  • Newportpologal

    My Mother lives in Maryland and I now live in Rhode Island. Ever since I moved away from home 15 or so years ago my mother and I have a GREAT spring tradition. I will answer the phone and there will be silence…”hello? Mom?” and then I hear it… The spring peepers my favorite sound in the whole world comes across the line. She of course gets the peepers before I do in NE, so I have now given her the same phone call when I experience the first peepers of the year and we have a wonderful spring awakening connection together.
    Jennifer Mitchell

  • John

    I read an article about 6 years ago which reported that birds’ calls in Boston are higher in frequency than members of the same species in rural areas, apparently to compensate for low frequency noise in the city; do singing insects in the city sing higher than country cousins?

  • Stillin

    I like to think of all the senses with each season…spring and spring/summer makes me think of the sight of fire flies, I love them, the sound of the wind I never get tired of, in any season, the texture of the air, the taste of snowflakes and rain, and the touch of crispy leaves…I love my seasons…the natural world rules, and heals.

    • Bemused

      Beautiful!!

  • Julie

    PLANT NATIVES AND THE NIGHT SOUNDS MAY RETURN TO YOUR YARD!!!!

  • Jcopecaldwell

    When I was a kid moths awirled around street lights at night. I do not see much of that anymore. I’m glad the Katydids are still a part os summer evenings and hope they always will be.

  • (the real one {really})

    Tom: once again I am won by your artistry (this is why I listen almost every day and sometimes post here even though I have been repeatedly banned).

    There must be a haiku in
    cricket song dedicated
    to Steve’s first kiss
    Radio history
    made fresh

    This one and the haiku show would make a killer duo for replay.
    Both time I looked at the show title on the net and thought it would be
    boring, but rather than this you have taken the time to point out that which is frequently of the most value in life — the seemingly irrelevant.

    Bravo

    A Cricket Song
    for Streve’s First Kill.

    It would make a great film.

    • Patrfed

      I liked this but couldn’t register my response. When I clicked on “like,” nothing happened.

    • Jerome24

      I liked it too, even though at first I thought the last part a little demented. Then I remembered the temporary lull in my first fire fight when firebase Maryann was near overrun. I had just shot my first sapper, then the quiet and the crickets. It was pretty different from Steve’s first kiss, except for the crickets.

  • Julie

    I live in a neighborhood where most neighbors have green, green lawns. In my yard I allow a respectful amount of chaos, and the night sounds in my yard are notably louder!!! Plant native for the insects, for the birds, for frogs, etc….

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1631791436 Suz Carter

    I love OnPoint – but I really love this interviewee – so learned and funny! … was he featured on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me once – speaking about immense pythons and rampant ostriches at airports?

  • Janet

    Great show! I’m reminded of a passage from Donald Hall’s Fathers Playing Catch with Sons about listening to baseball on the radio: “We listened on the dark screen porch, an island in the leaves and bushes, in the faint distant light from the street, while the baseball cricket droned against the real crickets of the yard.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joanie-Gentian/610374005 Joanie Gentian

    One hot humid night in early September 1980, I slept in a campground, an hour out of Chicago, full of people in RV’s, colored lights and huge bonfires. The Crickets were as loud as the camping experience was artificial..hugely so. Several times as loud as anything I have heard living in the woods and high country in New England. I always wondered why that was: species? hot thick night air quality? response to the lights and weirdness they were living around? I have no idea.

  • Sandra1938

    Wonderful show – a cricket came to live in my apartment for four days late last fall – I got up in the night to investigate and came face-to-face with the little creature, we had a long moment. Thanks again -
    BUT!!!! I would like to comment on Tom’s assumption that the person (male) one of the callers kissed was a female. “What was her name?” he said – time to be aware of those heterosexual assumptions and be more inclusive. Please…..

    • nancy

      Oh…come on. Really?

  • Colson

    The show prompted me to think about the bugs who “call out” for their mates without any sound – lighting bugs. This could be a whole show in itself. A friend told me of a massive blaze of lighting bugs last summer in a field where there must have been tens of thousands. Thanks. Chet

  • Holly

    I grew up in rural central Massachusetts in the 60′s and 70′s and there is nothing more calming than an orchestra of crickets and peepers. I live in SC now and, as your guest mentioned, can easily tune out the cicadas…until we have visitors from the north! They ask, “What’s that noise? Do you live near power lines?” My parents were visiting and staying in the guest room of our 1920′s home. Dad got up in the middle of the night to use their very tiny bathroom. To his surprise, he disturbed a sleeping cicada that had gotten into the bathroom. Imagine a live buzzing electrical wire flapping around like a loose hose in a space about 4 feet square with barely 8 foot ceilings in the dark! My dad doesn’t scare easily but this time…!!!

  • bug lover

    Beautiful and moving show that brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes with nostalgia for quieter times! Thank you and keep up the good work!

  • Stafford

    I wonder if Bradley Manning hears the night-singing insects while lying naked in his solitary confinement cell in the Marine Corps brig. How about a show on his unconstitutional/inhumane/torturous treatment as an imprisoned SUSPECT — held by the U.S. Government in our name and, I assume, to protect us. Do we treat murderers or pedophiles this way, or just gay servicemen who incur the wrath of the military brass? Shouldn’t we be looking at their (the officers’) failings for setting up such a woefully insecure data system that a low-ranking enlisted serviceman allegedly could release such volumes of data? Or should we be looking at the equally unfathomable problem of our government officials who classify so much data because they can’t distinguish the wheat from the chaff? Sunlight always has been a great disinfectant.

  • Dylancanales

    can you please tell the audience that Jerusalem crickets are not poisonous. All through Mexico people believe they are. And some here in New Mexico. Dylan

  • Rex

    I have on many a night at an astronomical observatory listen to the sounds of crickets and frogs, mixed in with sound of an owl. Looking through my eyepiece say at M42 Orion Nebula or planets Jupiter or Saturn ;just adds to beauty of both the earth and heavens. It like listen to NPR’s Echo’s program live.

    And as biogeologist I study at times caddisflies in creeks for pollution checks.

  • Rex

    I have on many a night at an astronomical observatory listen to the sounds of crickets and frogs, mixed in with sound of an owl. Looking through my eyepiece say at M42 Orion Nebula or planets Jupiter or Saturn ;just adds to beauty of both the earth and heavens. It like listen to NPR’s Echo’s program live.

    And as biogeologist I study at times caddisflies in creeks for pollution checks.

  • George

    Tom, I was in Atlanta visiting my son and as we were hanging out near the car a k-de-did landed on the roof. I reached out to poke fun at it and was suprised it reared back and took on a attachk mode with it’s front legs and would not take it’s eyes off me. Is this a normal protective action?

  • http://www.txstate.edu Clarissa

    I was wondering if Mr. Himmelman has had any formal entomology education that has helped him understand better the various sounds that insects let off. I am currently enrolled in an entomology course and am intrigued by Mr. Himmelman’s vast knowledge of the various critters he has recorded.

    Please bring Mr. Himmelman back onto your show!! Great segment :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richmond-L-Chaisiri/39602476 Richmond L Chaisiri

    Mr Himmelman mentions how we might go crazy if we couldn’t tune out the noises of Cicadas. This reminds me of some research I’d read about years ago that concluded that native Japanese speakers process noises as language. This research was pioneered by Professor Tadanobu Tsunoda of Tokyo Medical & Dental University. During a visit to Cuba he found himself constantly distracted by the sounds of insects which no one else seemed to notice. This lead him to theorize that westerners might process sounds differently than Japanese. Using the example of the sound of crickets, Tsunoda discovered that non Japanese processed insect noises as sound effects using the right sphere of the brain while native Japanese speakers processed the noise using the left sphere, which controls our understanding of language. So Japanese hear these beautiful sounds as a kind of insect language!

  • complady

    Thanks for this comforting show in the middle of a chaotic world. I moved from the east coast to the west many years ago and I really miss the bug and frog concert in the evening. I am going to try and find a bug concert recording. I wish I could find a lightening bug out here in the west. I don’t know why they aren’t here, but I miss the wonderful flickering light show in the twilight. The bugs gave me many magical moments as a child.

  • Tobias

    Thanks for this great show. The sounds definitely soothe me after a hectic day. I was born in Philadelphia, and lived there for eight years. Over the years I grew accustomed to the sound of city life, car horns, and rowdy college kids. When we moved to the suburbs, the sound of the insects in the summer was so…loud?different? I’m not exactly sure, but for the first couple months that we lived there, I had to have a fan in my room in order to give me a semblance of noise that I was used to

  • Hpmullins

    This was a wonderful show. Very interesting and very different. It was unique. Great. Thanks for taking the time to search out a topic that sometimes we take for granted, the night sounds of summer.

  • Pearl

    Thank you!!  I can now make it through winter without longing for the songs of the beloved cricket. 

  • Chuck540

    My favorite on point of all time!

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