Animals In Appalachia Appalachia

Have You Been Hearing Jar Flies?

jar fly

Jar Flies play the soundtrack to late summer in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Since I grew up hearing their raspy sound, most of the time the noise doesn’t even register with me, but I’ve heard other folks say the sound is bothersome to them.

Even though jar flies have provided the music for every late summer I’ve ever experienced, I’ve rarely seen one.  Most of the ones I’ve seen have been dead or I probably wouldn’t have even seen them. The photo in this post was sent to me by Don Casada who just happen to catch a jar fly emerging from its dry husk.

Jar flies play a large role in writings (fiction and non-fiction) set in Appalachia and in the south in general. Discussing their unique sound helps writers set the scene. See the quote below:

1996 Parton Mountain Memories:

“The faint sound of a barking dog, a mooing cow, or the loud “eeee-ar-eeee-ar” of a jar fly vied for the attention of the congregation.”

Want to hear a jar fly for yourself?

As luck would have it every time I tried to capture a clear sound of the jar flies in my yard someone start a weedeater up down the hill, the rooster would start crowing, or The Deer Hunter would crank his truck-like he did in the recording I did use.

This page shares the sounds of cicadas from all across the country and beyond. If you’d like to hear a clearer louder version you can visit it.

If you’d like to read scientific facts about jar flies (cicadas) in NC go here. The information is pretty interesting, but I’d rather think on how jar flies color the pictures of summer that I carry around in my head.

Are there jar flies where you live?


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn in September of 2014

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  • Reply
    Robert Hutchins
    October 12, 2021 at 8:06 pm

    Now I was probably wrong, but I learned the name from my older siblings. We called them July flies. There were June bugs and July flies. It was only after I was near grown that I learned they were called cicadas. I understand that in some areas they are called locusts, but I always thought the locust was more like a grasshopper.

  • Reply
    Lawrence Howell
    June 4, 2021 at 3:58 pm

    When I was a kid we used to catch them and do like the June bug. Tie a piece of thread around his leg and hold on cause it like having a stealth fighter jet by the tail. I been hit in the mouth the eye one even bloodied my nose one year but oh that was the life and I miss it dearly.they are hard to catch unless your very lucky.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    That’s a sound of summer for me. I hear that sound and think of hot summer days, hopes for a cool breeze, and a garden full of good things to eat.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2017 at 9:41 am

    yes, I love hearing the sounds of summer…..crickets and peeper frogs are my favorite tho.

  • Reply
    August 16, 2017 at 5:48 am

    They are interesting creatures, wouldn’t be the south with out them. Ever seen the Cicada killer that preys on these bugs, he looks like the B-52 bomber of insects.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 15, 2017 at 11:18 pm

    Nobody mentioned why we call them jar flies! We used to catch them and put then in a quart jar with holes poked in the lid. We put in grass but they wouldn’t eat it. I don’t think they eat at all while they are above ground. Before they emerge they suck sap from tree roots. They don’t attack your garden like most insects. While they are above ground they are only concerned with making babies.
    Did you know that you can cause a jar fly make its music (if you can call it that?) When you catch them, you cup your hands around them for a couple of minutes until they quit moving, then fold their wings back kinda like you would the fins on a fish. Gently hold them with your index (or middle) finger on their back and your thumb on their belly and loose their wings. They will start to move their wings and if you can hold them so that their wings are completely free, they will make their patent sound. You can feel the vibrations too. It feels like hold some with a small electric motor like an electric clipper or shaver. When you are tired of playing with them just fold their wings back down and put them back in the jar.
    The cicada in the picture has just molted and its wings are not developed enough yet to create its signature sound which it does by beating its wings against its abdomen.
    The cicada is one of the most benign creatures on Earth. They won’t sting or bite you (they don’t even have a mouth.) One can startle you if you are near it when it cranks up. Other than that they are harmless.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 15, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    I haven’t heard as many jarflies as I usually do here but back about a month ago there was a massive hatch of them ugly bugs at Missy’s house. She lives about 17 miles away as the cicada flies. Her house is back in the woods so the noisy swarm have plenty of places to woo and call a mate.
    We hadn’t had any insect problems here at my place this year until a couple of weeks ago when you did a post about fruit flies. Now we have fruit flies. I think they came in through the computer. Other people get viruses in their computers. I get fruit flies!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 15, 2017 at 11:33 am

    I see by a map that I have used before that NC is having a cicada brood hatch this year. That means that your ears will ring with their buzzing until they mate and the male then falls dead away. Notice any branches may die as the female slits it open to lay her eggs until all sometimes as many 600 are laid in different branches…etc. The nymphs hatch and fall and bury in the ground to eat and live until a seventeen, thirteen or so cycle passes and they climb up the side of a tree, split open their husk and arrive looking like the green one pictured. He has not pumped up his/her wings and warmed up to color with the red eyes…My husband and I have noticed that this year we haven’t had as many jar flies buzzing as usual…This must have been one of those off years, since regardless of scheduled hatches by the scientists…we always have a few shells on our trees and hear their calls much to the happiness of my cat…
    Have you ever heard a male give up the ghost…a long buzzing sound as it falls to the ground…as it is dying…This is when my cat grabs it and torments it to its final breath…Letting one of its wings beating, fluttering buzz create the wild predator instinct in my old silly cat. He will back off, watch and if it moves or flutters or buzzes while upside down…he pounces on it until it quits moving. Drops it, backs up to watch and start the process all over again….When it finally dies…or stops totally moving…there is an audible crunch…Yep, down the hatch it goes.
    In fact during our cicada brood hatch a few years ago…folks were bragging about catching them and deep frying them or roasting them over the hibachi on skewers like shrimp…saying they were very nutritious and very tasty…NOT ME….not even if they CHOCOLATE COVERED THEM.
    Yes, the jar fly in my mind, signifies the ending of a long hot, sultry August! Soon the cool down will begin as September arrives…
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….Katy-dids n’ katy-didn’ts, cicadas n’ jar fly’s, large flying grey locusts/grasshoppers n’ giant green praying mantises, migrating yellow sulphur butterflies n’ Monarchs….its nearly over for this summer until next year…soon we will see flocks of our migrating South bound birds…
    Have you been counting the AUGUST FOGS, have you noticed the placement of the rings on the wooly bear caterpillar, the thickness of the corn husks or the thick or thin mane of the horses?
    How many snows will we have this year and when will we see the first one?
    Just pondering~~~~~ha

  • Reply
    August 15, 2017 at 11:20 am

    You know, I’ve heard of jar flies, but didn’t know they were the same as cicadas- a chorus I’m quite familiar with. When I was growing up, they were often called locusts in Tenn., Ark., and AL. Cicadas in FL.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    August 15, 2017 at 11:12 am

    Dear Tipper,
    I am fascinated by the photograph! I never knew what a jar fly looked like, but now I know. I actually love to hear them. They are simply part of what I know as “life.” I have heard them since I can remember and the sound is sort of soothing to me.

  • Reply
    August 15, 2017 at 10:41 am

    That was nice of Don to send you those pictures. The green shell kinda reminds me of a Molly-craw-bottom, only they’re brown. There’s all kinds of creepy, crawley things in Appalachia, but most are harmless.
    We use to sein minnows at the head of Valley River and we’d catch hundreds of ’em. Sometimes we’d run upon a Waterdog, and we’d do away with that booger. Someone would go ahead and muddy the creek, so the minnows couldn’t see us coming. I don’t see those type with the pretty red sides anymore. …Ken

  • Reply
    August 15, 2017 at 9:46 am

    I’ve always heard when you hear cicadas, it’s going to be hot. When I was a child, I thought it was so neat to find their skins attached to the side of a tree. I’ve never seen a live one, only dead ones. Their sounds don’t bother me.

  • Reply
    wanda Devers
    August 15, 2017 at 9:21 am

    I wonder if they are what Mama called “dry flies”? I’m thinking of you and praying for you. Hope you’re soon better.

  • Reply
    August 15, 2017 at 9:16 am

    My girls found lots of dried shells when they were young and playing with friends. I don’t think I have ever seen a live jar fly. After looking at the photo, I’m not sure I want to. Their sound has never bothered me unless I am reading or talking on the phone outside.

  • Reply
    August 15, 2017 at 9:14 am

    My hearing has deteriorated, and I haven’t heard jar flies in years. However, if I put my left ear near the speaker I can hear them on the recording. I can hear crickets, tree frogs, and katydids. Apparently, jar flies are in a frequency range that I no longer hear. Some people might consider that a blessing.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 15, 2017 at 9:08 am

    I don’t think there are any here. If there are I have tuned them out. They do have an element of fingernails on the chalkboard in their sound.
    Wonder how they ever came to be called jar flies?

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    August 15, 2017 at 8:44 am

    Well, those little critters have been a happy part of many a summer for me — but I have never, ever, until this very minute heard them called anything but cicadas. I love the sound they make, and the name “jar fly” is delightful.

  • Reply
    August 15, 2017 at 8:34 am

    That little guy sure is ugly. I’ve never seen one here in Michigan.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 15, 2017 at 7:50 am

    Tip, I played the sound and it echoed the sound coming in from my open front door. I find their sound mildly irritating but have gotten used to them. They are just a part f life in the mountains of WNC.
    I’ve seen of few of the dead husks but I don’t believe I have ever seen a live green one. They are cute in a creepy bug eyed way. Thank you, Don, for that picture!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    August 15, 2017 at 7:15 am

    Summer and dog days would be much the poorer without the raspy sound of jar flies. I’ve not run across one emerging this year, but have found a few husks, one of which was within a foot of the one in your photo.
    Do cicadas come back home like the swallows come back to Capistrano?

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