4 april 2010

Now obsessing about cicadas. Wondering whether cicada is superceding worm as the year's totem animal. Reading J.G.Myer's book Insect Singers on the subject:

The adults are devoted wholly to Apollo and Eros . . .

How like my own household this seems!
Various experiments and methods of attracting cicadas using sound are described, including an investigation whereby Lataste (apparently le Roi du Crazy as far as these things go, working in Chile in the 1890s)

. . . made a machine, which, with the aid of a watch movement, produced at will either sounds, more or less like those of the cicada, or silent but visible vibrations. This was designed to ascertain whether the insects were drawn to the sound or to the movement; but unfortunately they remained entirely insensible to this instrument.

Undeterred by this setback, Lataste then tried (with some success) a different approach:

He then had an assistant clad in obscure vestments hide under the bushes and clap his hands, while the author, dressed in white, stood in the open and made the same motions silently. A cicada flew at once to the aide and perched on the bush which hid him. But on the aide ceasing to clap, and Lataste clapping himself, the cicada flew at once to the latter.

Sometimes these things appear to be a matter of tradition:

Annandale (1900) and Skeat (1900) describe a regular practice among the natives of the northern portion of the Malay Peninsula. For half an hour after sunset several men gather round a brightly burning wood fire, one of them holding a lighted torch. The others clap their hands at regular intervals, and the cicadas, Pomponia intemerata (Walk.), apparently attracted by the noise and guided by the light, fly down and settle upon the people as they stand by the fire.

This of course in the days before television. Finally one more extract which makes tears of nostalgia spring to the eyes:

Gadd . . . quotes an oral communication from the well-known Russian Hemipterist, Oshanin, that in Turkestan cicadas are attracted to the post-wagons by the noise of the bells on the horses' harness.

Makes one want to spend the summer reading Pushkin.