VIDEO: Cicadas shrill for a few days of thrill

Spare a thought for the cicada, even while they're carrying on so loud that you can't hear yourself think.

Give them a little sympathy when you're trying to get back to sleep at 5.30am, even when their rowdy search for a mate proves more grating than the sounds of a full-moon party in Phuket.

Because six years underground, sucking nutrients out of roots, instinctively counting the years, perhaps not expecting more to happen, not knowing about the blaze of glory that is to come, doesn't seem like much of a life.

So little wonder, once they get the signal to dig their way out of the ground, once they finally grow wings, find their voice and have a chance to mate, little wonder that they sound desperate, a bit wild.

Genna Chiodo, 7, of Farmborough Heights, wears earmuffs while holding a cicada near her home. Pictures: KIRK GILMOUR

Genna Chiodo, 7, of Farmborough Heights, wears earmuffs while holding a cicada near her home. Pictures: KIRK GILMOUR

Like the young backpackers at the full-moon party.

But while the Phuket techno track has few redeeming features, it's easier to understand why the cicada wants to make the most of their few days above ground.

Because within a week or so - it varies between species - they will die, whether they have found a mate or not.

Such is the phenomenon that has gripped the Illawarra since well before Christmas, as hundreds of thousands of male cicadas climb trees to sing their song, from a vibrating membrane below their hollow abdomen, in the hope of finding a mate.

"I know they are the sound of summer, but this is ridiculous," goes the familiar refrain as neighbours try to communicate with each other in the dusk.

When the Mercury spoke with University of Wollongong entomologist James Wallman this week, he had to close his office window so he could hear.

This is a good year for cicadas, which can be attributed to the conditions when this crop was spawned four to six years ago, he said.

The life cycle varies between species.

"The best-known ones go by the common names that they've been known by for generations, particularly by schoolchildren in the days before computer games," Associate Professor Wallman said. "The Black Prince, Greengrocer, Double Drummer, Cherrynose, Floury Baker, Redeye.

"What we've seen at the moment is a mass emergence of a lot of different cicadas at the same time.

"There must be some sort of signal they respond to. It's probably warming of the weather and rainy conditions."

While the noise has died down a little, Assoc Prof Wallman said the December racket was most likely the early emergers - and other species could stay around for several more weeks.

Music to our ears.

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