Thopha saccata

From Wikipedia

Thopha saccata
dorsal view of a single mounted cicada on a plain background
T. saccata male specimen on display at the Australian Museum
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hemiptera
Family: Cicadidae
Genus: Thopha
T. saccata
Binomial name
Thopha saccata
( Fabricius, 1803)
Map of Australia with green range marked down most of the eastern coast of New South Wales, and some disjoint areas on the coast of Queensland.
Thopha saccata range
  • Tettigonia saccata Fabricius, 1803
  • Cicada saccata (Fabricius, 1803)

Thopha saccata, commonly known as the double drummer, is the largest Australian species of cicada and reputedly the loudest insect in the world. Documented by the Danish zoologist Johan Christian Fabricius in 1803, it was the first described and named cicada native to Australia. Its common name comes from the large dark red-brown sac-like pockets that the adult male has on each side of its abdomen—the "double drums"—that are used to amplify the sound it produces.

Broad-headed compared with other cicadas, the double drummer is mostly brown with a black pattern across the back of its thorax, and has red-brown and black underparts. The sexes are similar in appearance, though the female lacks the male's tymbals and sac-like covers. Found in sclerophyll forest in Queensland and New South Wales, adult double drummers generally perch high in the branches of large eucalypts. They emerge from the ground where they have spent several years as nymphs from November until March, and live for another four to five weeks. They appear in great numbers in some years, yet are absent in others.


Danish naturalist Johan Christian Fabricius described the double drummer as Tettigonia saccata in 1803, [1] the first description of an Australian cicada. [2] The type locality was inexplicably and incorrectly recorded as China. [3] It was placed in the new genus Thopha by French entomologists Charles Jean-Baptiste Amyot and Jean Guillaume Audinet-Serville in their 1843 work Histoire naturelle des insectes Hemipteres ("Natural History of Hemiptera Insects"). The generic name is derived from thoph ( Hebrew: תּוֹף‎), meaning " drum". They maintained it as native to China. [4] The specific name is derived from the Latin saccus, meaning "sac" or "bag", and more specifically "moneybag". [5]

In 1838, Félix Édouard Guérin-Méneville pointed out that the double drummer is native to Australia and not China. [6] John Obadiah Westwood designated it the type species of the genus in 1843, [7] [8] and it is also the type species for the tribe Thophini. [9] The common name is derived from the male cicada's sac-like tymbal covers ("drums") on either side of its abdomen. [10]


Photograph of cicada face, sitting on fallen leaves
Face on, showing small red ocelli and eyes – southeast Queensland
dorsal view of cicada on bright blue carpet
Female T. saccata on carpet

The adult double drummer is the largest Australian species of cicada, the male and female averaging 4.75 and 5.12 cm (1.87 and 2.02 in) long respectively. The thorax is 2 cm (0.79 in) in diameter, [11] its sides distended when compared with the thorax of other Australian cicadas. [12] The forewings are 5–6.6 cm (2.0–2.6 in) long. The largest collected specimen has a wingspan of 15.1 cm (5.9 in), [2] while the average is 13.3 cm (5.2 in). [13] The average mass is 4.0 g (0.14 oz). [13] The sexes have similar markings, but males have large dark red-brown sac-like structures on each side of their abdomens. [11] [14] These cover the tymbals—specialised structures composed of vertical ribs and a tymbal plate, which is buckled to produce the cicada's song. [15] The head is much broader than that of other cicadas, and is broader than the pronotum behind it. The head, antennae and postclypeus are black, [14] with a narrow broken pale brown transverse band across the vertex just behind the ocelli. [11] The eyes are black in young adult cicadas upon emerging, but turn brown with black pseudopupils at the posterior edge of the eye. [14] The ocelli are deep red. [11] The proboscis is 1.26 cm (0.50 in) in length—very long compared with other Australian cicada species. [13] The thorax is brown, becoming paler in older individuals. [14] The pronotum is rusty brown with black anterior borders, while the mesonotum is a little paler with prominent black markings, [11] with paired cone-shaped spots with bases towards the front on either side of a median stripe; [10] lateral to these spots are a pair of markings resembling a "7" on the right hand side of the mesonotum and its reverse on the left. [11] The abdomen is black between the tymbal covers and red-brown and black more posteriorly. The underparts of the double drummer are red-brown and black, [14] and covered in fine silvery velvety hairs. [11] The female's ovipositor is very long, measuring 1.76 cm (0.69 in). [13] The wings are vitreous (transparent) with light brown veins. The legs are dark brown and have grey velvety hairs. [11]

There is little variation in colour over its range, though occasional females are darker overall than average, with markings less prominent or absent. [11] The double drummer is larger and darker overall than the northern double drummer ( T. sessiliba); [11] the latter has a white band on the abdomen, while the former has black markings on the leading edge ( costa) of the forewing extending past the basal cell. [14]

Male cicadas make a noise to attract females, which has been described as "the sound of summer". [16] The song of the double drummer is extremely loud—reportedly the loudest sound of any insect [17]—and can reach an earsplitting volume in excess of 120  dB if there are large numbers of double drummers at close range. [14] [18] Monotonous and dronelike, the song is said to resemble high-pitched bagpipes. [19] The sound of the buckling of the tymbal plate then resonates in an adjacent hollow chamber in the abdomen, as well as in the exterior air-filled sacs, which act as Helmholtz resonators. [20]

Singing can cease and restart suddenly, either rarely or frequently, and often ends abruptly. [14] The song has been described as "Tar-ran-tar-rar-tar-ran-tar-rar", [21] and consists of a series of pulses emitted at a rate of 240–250 a second. The tymbal covers are much larger than other species and also make the call louder and send it in a particular direction. There are two distinct phases of song, which the double drummer switches between at irregular intervals. One phase is a continuous call that can last for several minutes; during this period the frequency varies between 5.5–6.2  kHz and 6.0–7.5 kHz 4–6 times a second. In the other phase, the song is interrupted by breaks of increasing frequency resulting in a staccato sound. These breaks can be mistaken for silence as the difference in volume is so great, though the song actually continues at a much lower volume. During this staccato phase, which lasts for several seconds, the frequency remains around 5.75–6.5 kHz. The frequency of the song is a high harmonic of the pulse repetition frequency, which makes for a particularly ringing sound. [22] Double drummers congregate in groups to amplify their calls, which likely drives off potential bird predators. [23] Male double drummers also emit a distress call—a sharp fragmented irregular noise—upon being seized by a predator. [12] [23]

Life cycle

Photograph from above of mating cicadas on fallen leaves
Pair of mating double drummers, Southeast Queensland

The narrow spindle-shaped eggs are laid in a series of slits cut by the mother's ovipositor in branches or twigs, usually of eucalypts. [24] On average about twelve eggs are laid in each slit, for a total of several hundred. These cuts can cause significant damage to the bark of tender trees. [16] The eggs all hatch around 70 days later—usually within a day or two of one another—but take longer in cold or dry conditions. [24] The larvae then fall to the ground and burrow into the soil. [25] Though the timing of the double drummer's life cycle is unknown, [26] nymphs of cicadas in general then spend from four to six years underground. [27] Unusual for Australian cicadas, double drummers emerge during the daytime. [2] Emerging en masse generally, nymphs are covered in mud. This mud remains on their exuviae, [28] which emerging cicadas leave at the bases or in burnt out hollows of eucalypts. Within a forest, successive broods may emerge in different locations each year. [26] The cicada's body and wings desiccate and harden once free of the exuvia. [12]

The adult lifespan of the double drummer is about four or five weeks. [29] [30] During this time, they mate and reproduce, and feed exclusively on sap of living trees, sucking it out through specialised mouthparts. [31] Female cicadas die after laying their eggs. [12]

Distribution and habitat

Photograph looking up tall straight trees and their canopy against the sky
Blackbutt ( Eucalyptus pilularis) in sclerophyll forest, Sydney

The double drummer has a disjunct distribution, found from northern tropical Queensland, near Shiptons Flat and Cooktown south to Ingham and Sarina, and then from Gympie in southeastern Queensland to Moruya in southern New South Wales. [14] It is found in areas of higher elevation in the northern segment of its range, as the climate there is similar to that in southeast Queensland. [11] Walter Wilson Froggatt and Robert John Tillyard erroneously included South Australia in its distribution. [32] [33]

Photograph of two brown and black cicadas mating on fallen leaves
Female T. saccata (behind, left) male (front, right)

Adults are present from November to early March, prolific in some years and absent in others. They are found in dry sclerophyll forest, preferring to alight and feed on large eucalypts [13] [14] with diameters over 20 cm (7.9 in) and sparse foliage concentrated at a height between 10 and 25 m (33 and 82 ft), [13] particularly rough-barked species, [10] apples ( Angophora) and Tristania. [11] Associated trees include the grey box ( Eucalyptus moluccana), snappy gum ( E. racemosa) and narrow-leaved apple ( Angophora bakeri) in a study at three sites in western Sydney. [34] At Hawks Nest in coastal swampy sclerophyll woodland, adults were observed mainly on swamp mahogany ( Eucalyptus robusta) and sometimes blackbutt ( E. pilularis), as well as Allocasuarina littoralis and introduced pine ( Pinus radiata). [33] Nymphs feed primarily on the roots of eucalypts. [35]

The double drummer has not adapted well to city life; distribution of the species in cities is limited to natural stands of large trees. [2]


In hotter weather, double drummers perch on the upper branches of trees, while on overcast or rainy days, they may be found lower down on trunks near the ground. [11] Double drummers on tree trunks are skittish, and can fly off en masse if disturbed. [26] Relative to other Australian cicadas they have excellent perception, fly at a moderate cruising speed of 2.5 m/s (8.2 ft/s), with a similarly moderate maximum speed of 4.0 m/s (13 ft/s), and are exceptionally adept at landing. [13] The double drummer has been known to fly out to sea, effectively on a one-way trip as their bodies have later been found washed up on beaches. A swarm of double drummers were reported 8 km (5.0 mi) off the coast of Sussex Inlet in January 1979, in and around the boat of a local fisherman. [14]


As the adult cicadas emerge in the daytime, large numbers are consumed by birds. [36] Thopha cicadas have also been found in the stomachs of foxes. [37] The double drummer is one of the large cicada species preyed on by the cicada killer wasp (Exeirus lateritius), [36] which stings and paralyses cicadas high in the trees. Their victims drop to the ground where the cicada-hunter mounts and carries them, pushing with its hind legs, sometimes over a distance of 100 m (330 ft). They are then shoved into the hunter's burrow, where the helpless cicada is placed on a shelf in an often extensive "catacomb", to form food-stock for the wasp grub growing from the eggs deposited within. [38]

Interactions with humans

Black and white scientific drawing of a cicada with wings spread
This illustration of Thopha saccata appeared in the 1885 Elementary Text-book of Entomology by William Forsell Kirby.

Schoolchildren climb trees to collect live cicadas and keep them as pets in shoeboxes. However, they cannot easily be kept for longer than a day or two, given that they need flowing sap for food. [18] Live adults brought into classrooms by their captors would startle the class with their piercing sound. [39] Poems dedicated to the double drummer appeared in the Catholic Press in 1933 and 1936, describing bird predation and its life cycle to children. [40] [41]

See also


  1. ^ Fabricius, Johan Christian (1803). Systema rhyngotorum : secundum ordines, genera, species : adiectis synonymis, locis, observationibus, descriptionibus (in Latin). Brunswick, Germany: C. Reichard. p. 34.
  2. ^ a b c d Moulds, Maxwell (1 September 2009). "Those Noisy Sydney Insects – the Cicadas". In Daniel Lunney; Pat Hutchings; Dieter Hochuli (eds.). The Natural History of Sydney. Mosman, NSW: Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales. pp. 227–33. ISBN  978-0-9803272-3-6.
  3. ^ Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (19 July 2012). "Species Thopha saccata (Fabricius, 1803)". Australian Faunal Directory. Commonwealth of Australia. Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 8 August 2013.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list ( link)
  4. ^ Amyot, Charles Jean-Baptiste; Audinet-Serville, Jean Guillaume (1843). Histoire naturelle des insectes Hemipteres (in French). Paris, France: Librairie encyclopédique de Roret. p. 471.
  5. ^ Simpson, D.P. (1979). Cassell's Latin Dictionary (5 ed.). London, United Kingdom: Cassell Ltd. p. 528. ISBN  0-304-52257-0.
  6. ^ Guérin-Méneville, Félix Édouard (1838). "Voyage de la Favorite". Magasin de Zoologie (in French). 9: 80.
  7. ^ Westwood, John Obadiah (1843). "Descriptions of Some Homopterous Insects from the East Indies". Arcana Entomologica or Illustrations of New, Rare, and Interesting Insects. 2. London, United Kingdom: William Smith. pp. 33–35 [33].
  8. ^ Moulds, Maxwell Sydney (30 April 2012). "A Review of the Genera of Australian Cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadoidea)". Zootaxa. 3287: 1–262 [224]. doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.3287.1.1.
  9. ^ Moulds, Maxwell Sydney (2001). "A Review of the Tribe Thophini Distant (Hemiptera: Cicadoidea: Cicadidae) with the Description of a New Species of Thopha Amyot Serville". Insect Systematics and Evolution. 32 (2): 195–203. doi: 10.1163/187631201X00155. ISSN  1399-560X.
  10. ^ a b c Goding, Frederic Webster; Froggatt, Walter Wilson (1904). "Monograph of the Australian Cicadidae". Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. 29 (3): 561–670 [571–72]. doi: 10.5962/bhl.part.20173.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Burns, Alexander Noble (1962). "Revision of the Genus Thopha (Cicadidae)". Memoirs of Museum Victoria. 25: 269–79. doi: 10.24199/j.mmv.1962.25.15.
  12. ^ a b c d Cammeray (8 March 1914). "Nature Study – Habits of the Shrill Cicada – Essentially a Summer Insect – Viewed in its Australian Habitat". The Sunday Times. Sydney: National Library of Australia. p. 32. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g MacNally, Ralph C.; Doolan, Jane M. (1986). "Patterns of Morphology and Behaviour in a Cicada Guild: A Neutral Model Analysis". Austral Ecology. 11 (3): 279–94. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.1986.tb01398.x.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Moulds 1990, pp. 55–56.
  15. ^ Bennet-Clark, Henry (1997). "Tymbal Mechanics and the Control of Song Frequency in the Cicada Cyclochila australasiae". Journal of Experimental Biology. 200 (Pt 11): 1681–94. doi: 10.1242/jeb.200.11.1681. PMID  9319589.
  16. ^ a b Wondjina (28 December 1946). "The Cicada Sings for Love". Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney: National Library of Australia. p. 10. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  17. ^ Brunet, Bert (2000). Australian Insects: A Natural History. Chatswood, New South Wales: Reed New Holland. p. 205. ISBN  1-876334-43-6.
  18. ^ a b Craig, Owen (17 February 2001). "Summer of Singing Cicadas". ABC Science – Environment and Nature. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  19. ^ "Animal Species: Double Drummer Cicada". Australian Museum. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
  20. ^ Bennet-Clark, Henry (1999). "Resonators in Insect Sound Production: How Insects Produce Loud Pure-tone Songs". Journal of Experimental Biology. 202 (Pt 23): 3347–57. doi: 10.1242/jeb.202.23.3347. PMID  10562517.
  21. ^ "The Cicada". The Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney: National Library of Australia. 29 April 1933. p. 9. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  22. ^ Young, David (1972). "Analysis of Songs of Some Australian Cicadas". Australian Journal of Entomology. 11 (3): 237–43. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-6055.1972.tb01623.x.
  23. ^ a b Moulds 1990, p. 22.
  24. ^ a b Moulds 1990, pp. 5–6.
  25. ^ Monteith, Geoff; Burwell, C.; Lambkin, C (2011). "Cicadas – Our Summer Singers Fact Sheet" (PDF). Queensland Museum Learning. South Brisbane, Queensland: The State of Queensland (Queensland Museum). Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  26. ^ a b c Popple, Lindsay (2006). "Genus Thopha Amyot and Serville, 1843 (Drummers)". The Cicadas of Central Eastern Australia. University of Queensland. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  27. ^ "It's the world's oldest love song". Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 3 February 1960. p. 30. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  28. ^ Moulds 1990, p. 53.
  29. ^ "Open-Air Yarns: Singing Cicadas". Sunday Mail. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 17 December 1927. p. 14. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  30. ^ "The Cicadas". The Morning Bulletin. Rockhampton, Qld.: National Library of Australia. 17 December 1954. p. 14. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  31. ^ Britton, David (19 March 2012). "Cicadas: Superfamily Cicadoidea". Nature Culture Discover. Sydney: Australian Museum. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  32. ^ Froggatt, Walter Wilson (1907). Australian Insects. Sydney, New South Wales: W. Brooks. pp. 348–49.
  33. ^ a b Hawkeswood, Trevor J. (2007). "Notes on the Occurrence and Habitat of a Population of Thopha saccata (Fabricius, 1803) (Homoptera: Cicadidae) on the Central Coast of New South Wales, Australia" (PDF). Calodema (Supplementary Paper No. 20): 1–2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-02.
  34. ^ Emery, D.L.; Emery, S.J.; Emery, N.J.; Popple, L.W. (2005). "A Phenological Study of the Cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae) in Western Sydney, New South Wales, with Notes on Plant Associations". Australian Entomologist. 32 (3): 97–110.
  35. ^ Moulds 1990, p. 7.
  36. ^ a b Moulds 1990, p. 10.
  37. ^ McIntosh, D. L. (1963). "Food of the Fox in the Canberra District". CSIRO Wildlife Research. 8 (1): 1–20. doi: 10.1071/CWR9630001.
  38. ^ Tillyard, Robert John (1926). The Insects of Australia and New Zealand. Sydney, New South Wales: Angus & Robertson. pp. 298–99..
  39. ^ "The Bushlover". The Brisbane Courier. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 27 February 1932. p. 23. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  40. ^ "A Summer Tragedy". The Catholic Press. Sydney: National Library of Australia. 28 December 1933. p. 33. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  41. ^ Gossamer, Goody (16 January 1936). "The Children's Page". The Catholic Press. Sydney: National Library of Australia. p. 39. Retrieved 19 August 2013.

Cited text

  • Moulds, Maxwell Sydney (1990). Australian Cicadas. Kensington, New South Wales: New South Wales University Press. ISBN  0-86840-139-0.