Droning katydids, dog day cicadas say August is here

The melodious songs of nesting birds may be the sounds most associated with spring and early summer. But, this time of year, it is the ceaseless droning and buzzing of katydids and cicadas that tell us August is here.

Songbirds are mostly quiet now, but the katydids at night and the dog day cicadas during the day are in full chorus — as much a part of August in Georgia as muggy heat and ripening cotton fields.

Many a writer and filmmaker has used the endless humming of katydids and cicadas as scene-setters for late summer. Poets, too, wax eloquently over the insects.

“Sometimes I keep / From going to sleep, / To hear the katydids ‘cheep-cheep’,” wrote poet James Whitcomb Riley in “The Katydids.”

I also find comfort in the katydids’ monotonous cadence on late-summer evenings. Perhaps singing katydids remind me of a slower, less-complicated time more than a half-century ago — before smartphones and iPads and Twitter — when families like mine headed out to the front porch after supper, plopped down in a rocking chair or on a porch swing, and enjoyed an evening breeze while the katydids murmured in the background.

Several katydid species, which are related to crickets and grasshoppers, inhabit Georgia. The loudest is the so-called common true katydid, which is seldom seen because it is nocturnal. It is also a master of camouflage, looking like oak leaves, shiny and dark green with simulated leaf veins.

Its song, heard only at night, sounds something like “ka-ty-DID.”

Both male and female katydids “sing” by rubbing their wings together, probably to help find each other in the dark. Females lay eggs on tree bark and leaf stems. Come fall and cooler temperatures, katydids will stop singing. Adults won’t survive the winter.

Dog day cicadas, heard only during the day, are so-named because they emerge each year from the ground during the dog days of July and August. After laying their eggs, adult cicadas also will perish, come winter.

In the sky: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The famous Perseid meteor shower, one of the year's best meteor showers, will be visible all next week, reaching a peak of 50 meteors per hour Wednesday night. Look to the northeast from 2 a.m. until dawn.

The moon will be new Friday. Mercury is low in the west at dusk. Saturn is in the southwest at dusk and sets in the west around midnight. The other planets are not easily visible.