Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

Redeye, Psaltoda moerens and Greengrocer, Cyclochila australasiae

Image Details
  • Plate Number: 50
  • Media: Lithographic print - lithographic ink on paper
  • Artist: Arthur Bartholomew
  • Lithographer: Arthur Bartholomew
  • Location: Australia, Victoria, Yarra River, near Melbourne
Transcript from the Prodromus of Zoology

Plate 50, Figure 1. The Great Black, or Manna cicada, Cicada moerens (now known as Redeye, Psaltoda moerens)

The Cicadæ, forming the old genus Cicada of Linnæus, constitute now the family Cicadidoe, to the section Octicelli of which (or those having 8 marginal cells to the upper wings) the two kinds figured on our plate belong. They are the largest and the most famous of the Homopterous insects, remarkable above all things for the loud song of chirping whir of the males in the heat of the summer. 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 queruloe rumpent arbusta Cicadoe" 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 Cicadoe 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. The pupæ, the bachelor males, and the females when full of eggs, are the greatest delicacy for the epicure, according to the Greek authority, but none of my friends have enabled me to say whether in their opinion the Australian species merits the praise.

Plate 50, Figure 4. The Great Green Cicada, Cyclochila australasiæ (now known as Greengrocer, Cyclochila australasiae) found on the banks of the Yarra

This species is much less abundant than the C. moerens, and seems more confined to moist places, such as river banks and deep ravines and gullies. The song begins like the quacking of a duck for some time before breaking into the continuous "whir," and is far louder than that of the C. moerens, becoming perfectly unbearable and deafening where they abound. It seems to frequent the various species of Acacia (popularly called Wattles) quite as often or more often than the Eucalypti. It appears at about the same time as the C. moerens in the hottest time of the year, but is much less widely distributed. It is not uncommon along the banks of the Yarra, near Melbourne. The pupa resembles that of the C. moerens, but is larger, and the tooth-like spines on the anterior legs are darker, larger, and stronger; and the large basal tooth has a small additional spine near its base.