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Word of the Week: Tymbal (Cicada)

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Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each week to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Word of the week is TYMBAL [TIM-buhl] (noun): A membrane that forms part of the sound-producing organ in various insects, including the cicada.

It’s that time of the year again folks! With all this warm weather we’ve been having, it’s no surprise that we are starting to hear one of the signature sounds of summer: Cicadas!

Cicadas are among the loudest insects in the world, and a swarm of them can produce sounds up to 120 decibels. That’s louder than a rock concert (about 115 decibels)!

So how do cicadas make this incredibly loud, trademark sound?

Well, cicadas have a special organ, known as a tymbalthat produces sound. The tymbal is made up of a series of ribs that buckle one after the other when the cicada flexes its muscles. Every time a rib buckles, the rib produces a click; many clicks produce a buzzing sound.

This action is kind of like how a bendy straw makes sound: pulling and pushing the ribs of the bendy straw together makes a series of clicks. If you could push, pull, and twist a bendy straw hundreds of times a second the sound of the clicks would be so close together that you’d only hear a buzzing sound: this is how fast the cicada is able to vibrate its tymbal!

It’s also important to note that only the male cicadas have the tymbal organ and therefore the ability to produce the loud sounds.

There are about 3000 known species of cicada worldwide and the Dog-Day Cicada (Tibicen canicularis) is the one that you can see and hear in High Park.

Dog-Day Cicadas are cloaked in hues of green, brown, and black to protect them from predators like birds, small mammals, or spiders but if you keep your eyes peeled, you might just spot one on your next High Park visit!