Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Song and Stories of the Cicada

Cicada and Lychee
an original Chinese Brush Painting
by Margaret Koai
Used with her generous permission

The cicadas are reemerging along the East Coast in the United States after seventeen; years. It is estimated there will be a billion swarming and flying around from mid to late May and they will be with us for approximately four to six weeks.

The picture to the right is by the talented Margaret Koai, who studied the art of Chinese Brush Painting under a skilled master, Rong Tian Chi. She graciously gave me permission to use her lovely painting for this blog post and shared this background on the painting.

"The buzzing sound of the cicada when spoken is a very similar sound to a Mandarin word which means "a deep understanding or wisdom". Lychee spoken in Mandarin also has a "story".  The spoken "Ly" means profitable, good luck, money or beneficial so it is a very good word! Almost all Traditional Chinese Brush Paintings have an intricate story hidden within its content.”

I encourage you to visit her website Inkstone,Ink to view her other beautiful paintings.

There is an ancient Italian myth which suggests that once there were no cicadas, then one day there was born on the earth a beautiful, good and very talented woman whose singing was so wonderful it even enchanted the gods. When she died the world seemed so forlorn without the sweet sound of her singing that the gods allowed her to return to life every summer as the cicadas so that her singing could lift up the hearts of man and beast once again.

Below you will find stories that feature the cicada and more stories about other insects who visit us during the warmer months. But first, some interesting information about our winged friends, along with a video link so you can hear them shake their tymbals  

  • Cicadas are related to crickets.
  • The time from emergence to being able to fly is about 2-3 hours in larger species but can be as quick as 30 minutes in smaller ones.
  • Cicadas nearly always sing from a position of rest.
  • Cicadas were eaten in Ancient Greece, China, Malaya, Burma, Australia, North and South America and the Congo.
  • Cicadas are mentioned in the Iliad by Homer about 10,000 BC. In the third book of the Iliad Homer compares the discourse of "sage chiefs exempt from war" to the song of the Cicada.
  • In Japan the cicada is a symbol of reincarnation.
  • In ancient Greece the cicada was sacred to Apollo the sun god.
  • In some of the Maori folk law of New Zealand the cicada is known as "Bird of Rehua". Rehua is the lord of kindness and plenty which also perhaps reflects the cicadas summer emergence.
  • In the Southwest desert of the US, the cicada outwitted the traditional trickster, the coyote, in Zuni mythology.  It produced heat in Hopi mythology, heralding the arrival of summer, and it is “the patron of Hopi Flute societies in charge of both music and healing,” according to Stephen W. Hill, Kokopelli Ceremonies.  The cicada played a key role as a scout and a conqueror in Navajo creation myths.  It brought renewal and healing to other tribes.

  • The above information came from the following websites:



Coyote and Cicada *The link will bring you to Google Books where you will find the story.
The Cicada and the Ant
Why the Cicada Cries as the Sun Sets - Philippines
The Butterfly Legend – Native American
Cricket and Cougar – Native American
How Butterflies Came to Be – Philippines
How Fly Saved the River – Native American
The Coyote and the Locust
The Grasshopper and the Ant – Central Asia
The Grasshopper and the Toad - Africa
The Insects that Wooed a Wifeless Man – Inuit/Native American
The Old Woman Who Was Kind to Insects – Native American
The Queen Bee – Germany/Grimm
The Wings of the Butterfly – Brazil
Why We See Ants Carrying Bundles Bigger Than Themselves – West Africa
Yellow Jacket and the Ant – Native American
Catch the Storybug Newsletter – In May/June of 2010 my newsletter featured stories about the birds and the bees. There are more stories and curriculum links to keep you buzzing along.
CRAFTS – Lots of links to bug and insect crafts for family fun.
DLTK Crafts for Kids – Bugs and Insects Crafts
Cicada Mania – Charts to tell you when or if they will appear in your area, what they look like and more.
Insects in the Classroom – A wide variety of lessons plans on various insects for ages 3 – 18.
National Geogrpahic - Cicada
Science Netlinks – Cicada Invasion
The Cicadas
Odysseus Elytis

The Virgin Holy held the sea
in her embrace
Cradling Sikinos isle and Amorgos
and her other children

At the edge of time and weather
and from the far end of winters
I listened to the trumpet conch blow
As the Mermaids swam out

And I amid the sea urchins,
in sandy hollows, by the tamarisks
Like the mariners of old
asked the cicadas:

“My messenger cicadas
hey you, hello! And blessed be your time—
Is King Helios alive?”
and all answered in unison:

Zi-zi zi-zi zi-zi zi-zi!
He’s -'s -'s-'s-'s-'s-'s-'s ALIVE! ”
Karen Chace 2013 ©
This blog post was researched and compiled by Karen Chace. Permission for private use is granted. Distribution, either electronically or on paper is prohibited without my expressed written permission. For permission please contact me at Of course, if you wish to link to my blog via your website, blog, newsletter, Facebook page or Twitter please feel free to do so; I greatly appreciate your support and personal integrity.