Name that Species:Amphipsalta zelandica

A summery view of Hagley Park

I’ve noticed an funny phenomenon while exploring the outdoor parks of Christchurch over the past few weeks. Every so often, when I’m cycling or walking across the universtiy campus or through Hagley Park, I’ll lose track of “s” sounds. It’s like a lisp, or a temporary Catalan accent.

Presented like that, it’s a pretty weird and random occurrence. But there’s a good reason behind this, and maybe you can guess why it happens if I give you a few more details. First, remember that it’s March, and in New Zealand that means we’re in the dog days of late summer. Second, I notice this happening more when I’m under trees.

Any guesses?

Well, the reason I lose “s” sounds is because they’re drowned out by an overwhelming buzz. The culprit behind the buzz is the chorus cicada, or Amphipsalta zelandica, or kihikihi wawā. The cicadas are deep into their end-of-summer reproduction jamboree, and so the males are croaking their hearts out in a mating song. For me, these individual songs merge into one indistinguishable drone. A female cicada, though, can pick out a single individual male’s song from the chorus and follows it to her choice mate. I’m amazed by the way they find each other!

…and, strangely, find myself craving a trip to Barcelona…

Until next time,


PS: Isn’t the Maori name fitting? “Wawā” translates to “to roar like the sound of the heavy rain”, and “kihikihi” (say it out loud!) sounds just like the cicada chorus does.

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