One of my favourite memories from Japan, especially a Japanese summer, is semi or cicadas.
Their little insect bodies (or technically the tymbals inside their abdomens, as I learned) vibrate like crazy making an unmistakable, powerful sound that is unforgettable.
The sound is oddly comforting but I’ve heard enough comments from people less impressed so perhaps it’s an acquired taste.
Semi in Tokyo sound distinct from those in Western Japan. This was one experience we couldn’t wait to hear when we went west during the insanely hot depths of summer a few years back.
These ever intriguing creatures spend much of their life underground before emerging in the summer only to die within a few weeks.
They are also scary! While they are on their last legs, they often lie on the ground looking dead but they really aren’t. They will chirp and make little mee-mee-mee semi sounds and then flit around, coming to life unexpectedly.
I have a fear that they will fly right into my face. And with good reason! Hitoshi and I were climbing down a steep staircase from the top of a small mountain in Niihama in Shikoku. The staircase ended at a graveyard that spilled into a residential neighborhood. The entire place was eerily quiet and not surprisingly; it was the early afternoon on a sweltering day in the middle of August.
With only a few steps left, I encountered my nemesis – an almost dead semi.
Hitoshi kept going down the stairs but the only logical action was to freeze right there. I eyeballed that unpredictable blob of scariness and shrieked every time it moved, terrified of where it would convulse next. All I could think of was this gigantic insect, the size of a small bird, flying into my left eyeball.
My pathetic yelps alternated with the shrill death calls of the semi while we both flung ourselves left and right in horror at the other.
Hitoshi was very helpful. He laughed until he couldn’t breathe, took a few pictures, told me to quit disturbing the tranquil neighborhood, and then mentally composed the hilarious tale he would soon relay to his family.
Despite all that, I do love semi and miss them when I’m far away in Canada.
Semi in my backyard – in Canada
But maybe all is not lost.
For the first time in memory, in Alberta, Canada, I heard the indisputable sound of semi!
How could that be?
Hitoshi and I first heard the sound a few days ago.
Squirrels live in the backyard. They regularly squawk down from the trees at anyone (animal or human) who interrupts their territory.
But there was no way the sound we heard was from a squirrel… unless it was seriously deranged with an extra oxygen supply to keep its shrill chuck chuck chuck sound going for a few minutes.
Hitoshi and I stared at each other and gazed with disbelief outside again.
Could it be? What else could possibly make that sound?
The next day we heard it again.
And the next, several times off and on over a couple of hours.
Searching for proof
Hitoshi collected bugs as a kid and still has a keen eye for big insects. He figured out our little friend was likely high up in the massive fir tree in the backyard.
He did his best with a pair of binoculars but that tree is around 30 feet (9 metres) tall. The branches are dense and the cicada would have easily blended into the bark.
Our next stop was Google and the Royal Alberta Museum‘s online “Bug Facts” mini database came to the rescue.
Alberta does have cicadas! There are “at least six species of Okanagana cicadas” living right in our province.
The info sheet talks about how Albertans are usually amazed to find that cicadas even exist here and I completely agree.
They eat plant sap and that fits our little buddy perfectly. That fir tree is laden with pinecones dripping in sap.
The final confirmation came from listening to the sound of a cicada from Alberta.
While we likely won’t see cicada-chan or it’s shedded shell, click here to see a beautiful specimen of an Alberta cicada.
Fun Fact: If you pick up a semi shell and throw it at someone’s t-shirt, it will stick. It is recommended to throw it at someone’s back first.
Have you ever come across an unexpected insect in your backyard?