Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria


McCoy’s Cicada observations, Prodromus

Our Cicada moerens, here figured for the first time, produces an almost deafening sound from the numbers of the individuals on the hottest days, and the loudness of their noise; which beginning with a prolonged high-toned whir like that of a knife-grinder, or the letter R loudly prolonged in a high pitch, continued for a minute or two, breaks into a series of diminuendo "squawks," like that of a frightened duck in a farmyard, loud enough to be heard some hundred yards off, and stunning our ears with the shrilling and squalling.

This kept up with "damnable iteration," as Falstaff says, by hundreds of individuals all day long, would tax the patience of a saint, if such existed in Australia. One might also say with Virgil, "Et cantu querulae rumpent arbusta Cicadae" only to burst the Australian "bush" would be rather too much for their distracting powers.

The Greeks keeping the Tettix in cages for the sake of their song, and praising their musical performances so highly, one might almost think indicated a great falling off in their powers to please in our day.

As the Chinese, however, do exactly the same still with their Cicada, I fancy (as the Cicadae are too great conservatives to change) that the real fact may be that the ancient Greek taste for music may have resembled the execrable modern Chinese one, which, as I have heard it grandly exemplified in some of their theatres on the goldfields, might be said in its din to be diabolical-if the comparison were not perhaps unfair to the absent.

Both sexes have short lives in the perfect state, and may be seen lying about on the ground under the trees, dead or dying, in abundance after their noisiest few days.

Our Nankeen Kestrel and other small hawks devour them on the wing in great numbers in their season, and they are probably very nice, like the Greek ones praised by Aristotle as the bonne-bouche.

- Frederick McCoy

Cicada moerens by Arthur Bartholomew.