Jar Flies

Jar Fly in Appalachia

Jar Flies aka cicadas play the soundtrack to late summer in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Since I grew up hearing them-most of the time their raspy sound 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 only seen one a few times in my lifetime. 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 would be weedeating 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 do a quick google. 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?


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  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    September 3, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    My grandmother called them July Flies. If you touch the tree they are singing in, they will stop instantly, but not for long.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 3, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    I found the common Cicada (Jar Fly) that sounds off around here in the late summer. Except when the 17 year locust (Cicadas) molt…
    Also found several Katydids that we have here. Some I have seen others I have only heard.
    Of course, the common black cricket is one of my favorites. I would not kill one for nothing. It is bad luck. If found in the house, I take the little booger outside.
    Check out this site:
    The Twenty Most Common Insect Sounds…Our Jar Fly is the first one…the most common katydid is the round wing…of course you will instantly recognize the little black cricket.
    I do love my “buggies” not so much scorpions and spiders and some devil waspers and hornets!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….I just love these “field trip days you post” since I can’t climb around out in the woods like I used too.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 3, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    and Don I believe the picture you have there is a European Hornet. The yellow is much yellow and the abdomen is much thicker than a Cicada Killer not as pointed to the stinger. The European Hornet is very large and will sting just to be stinging as well as hunting food. It does also feed on large insects such as Cicadas…You are lucky that you didn’t run into their nest there about where you heard the noise, for they are just likely to be hunting any large insect that is unfortunate to cross their path in or near the nest! If you should ever find a large nest, as we have here, never shine a flashlight at them, they will attack with abandon, nearly knocking you cold as a cucumber and hurts like fiery “Hello Bill”! You will want someone to take you to the ER it hurts so bad. There is a lot of venom in that fat belly.
    Your cicada must have come out when it was right muddy! Your flowers are beautiful! My dahlias didn’t last long this year!
    Thanks Tipper and Don for the sad picture. Glad you got that devil!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    September 3, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    This is an interesting post and
    Don’s close-up is really nice. But
    in the nightime up at my house, the
    chiddy-dids are so loud I can’t
    hardly hear “O’Reilly.” …Ken

  • Reply
    Morpha C Cado
    September 3, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    When we were kids we would catch jar flies. You can hold it gently with your thumb and forefinger on it’s back and belly and it will move its wings as if in flight. If you wanted to turn it loose you would just toss it in the air and it’s gone. If you want to keep it longer you have to gently fold its wings against it’s body because as long as you hold it like that it will keep thinking it is flying. They don’t come with a kill switch. Once it’s wings are folded you can hold it in your palm with your fingers wrapped around it. It might tickle you palm a little but it won’t hurt you and you ain’t hurting it.

  • Reply
    Toni Christman
    September 3, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Oh yes, Tipper! The jar fly (cicada) is called a locust in East Texas. They are everywhere in those damp hills and pine trees. I even wrote a poem about going to sleep by their chirping. When I was a kid (and it was still safe in town), I’d sleep on my grandmother’s big back porch on the day-bed. There were windows all around the room and they would all be raised because she never had air conditioning. I remember it being just barely dark and those cicadas would come out and sing some close harmony with the crickets until I went to sleep. It would please me to hear them again – never a bother. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Reply
    September 3, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Most folks here in Okla. call them locust. Never had heard the name jar flies before.
    Have seen a cicada killer the past couple of days flying around my yard—wondered what it was and now I know! Thanks!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    September 3, 2014 at 8:57 am

    By the way, the husk of that jar fly has served to decorate our table flowers (dahlias, zinnia)since the day I caught the emergence.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    September 3, 2014 at 8:35 am

    TimMc mentioned the cicada killer with a link.
    Five years ago, I took a little stroll from the end of the new road to Chambers Creek and back one day. Somewhere in the vicinity of Gunter Branch, I heard a jar fly in deep distress and found the reason here:
    I love that late summer sound of jar flies, and hated that jar fly most likely died (I left it sitting on leaves):
    The terminating ways of that particular killer were terminated.

  • Reply
    September 3, 2014 at 10:59 am

    There you go again, Tipper, making me think really hard early in the day. This causes me to research, which has further confused me. I had always heard Locusts referred to as Cicadas, and some sources on the web did also. But, there were many using jarflies and Cicada interchagebly. Since Tipper always does her homework, I tend to lean to that way of thinking.
    However, there is one unalterable fact–there is not a more wonderful sound in these Appalachian hills. Sometimes I just go outside to sit and marvel at all the wonderful sights, scents, and sounds our creator has given us.
    In my travels working in these hills I met the most interesting folks. The mountains are known sometimes for wonderful folklore and superstition. During a particularly bad plague of locusts, I once had a lady to advise me that locusts can predict war or peace. When I appeared interested, she reached over and plucked a locust from a small bush in her yard. She flipped it over to expose its underside, and sure enough there was a beautiful W marking. I will never be brave enough to ever grab one to check for a P, and not sure we will have peace again. But just thought this was such a wonderful piece of Appalachian superstition/folklore/truth, and wanted to share.

  • Reply
    September 3, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Yes, but I can never find the pretty green ones.
    I also can’t decide which summer bug I like best.
    Cicada or Katydid?

  • Reply
    Ken Ryan
    September 3, 2014 at 10:09 am

    We have them in East Texas, too. My hearing has gotten so bad that I really haven’t heard them in a long time. I couldn’t hear one on your recording either. I did, however, hear the truch crank up. lol

  • Reply
    Sam Ensley
    September 3, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Some folks around here call them “revival crickets” because they were at their loudest when late summer revivals were held. Back in the day, the churches didn’t have air-conditioning, so the sound of the “revival crickets” competed with the sound of the preachers through the open windows. I can remember going to sleep on the old wooden benches. being awakened by the preacher and lulled back to sleep by the cicadas in the big oak trees outside.

  • Reply
    September 3, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Your article a few days ago mentioned jar flies and I had to Google to find out what you were talking about! Spent interesting time with cicadas (jar flies), locusts and crickets. Thank you. As kids in Illinois, we collected dozens of the dried shells and vied to see how many we could get to stick on our T-shirts!

  • Reply
    September 3, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I have always wondered what they looked like as their sound reminds that it will be a warm day or that summer is coming to a close. These thoughts may not be exactly true, but it during those times that I really pay attention to them. They aren’t very attractive, so I’ll pass on searching for them. I’ll just pay attention to their so called music.

  • Reply
    September 3, 2014 at 9:21 am

    I’m so used to hearing them, the sound doesn’t bother me at all. It probably could be annoying if you stopped what you were doing and concentrated on it.

  • Reply
    September 3, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Very cool picture Don!!
    I hope the site Tim offered gets its maps up soon. I want to see if I’ve guessed the right one(s) for my area.
    In south Texas, we’d often call mesquite trees “locust” trees or “honey locust” trees because you could find so many of the exoskeletons on the tree – maybe they liked the “honey” that would seep out of the branches.

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    September 3, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Here in Kansas I’ve never heard the name Jar Flies used. Lots of folks refer to them as “locusts”. There was a couple from Massachusetts who moved here some years back and one of their biggest complaints was the sound of the cicadas. They didn’t stay long and I wondered if the cicadas had actually chased them away. I also used to hear a saying that went “When you hear the first cicada it’s 8 (sometimes they said 6) weeks to frost”. Ever hear that one? It always predicted frost way too early in my experience.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 3, 2014 at 9:15 am

    I hope most folks know that the cicada that Don is holding is not the look that it will become in a few short minutes or hour. The color will change from “Mars Green” and will have enlarged it’s wings and tail will appear somewhat shorter. The eyes will orange or red up, the wings will darken and pump up as it stretches them out and practice flying. This is one of the most dangerous times for these cicadas. They crawl out beside and up a short way on the tree and then the shell splits and they emerge from their muddy dirty old house, drying and pumping up their selves on the way to start the breeding, egg laying cycle all over again.
    Just sayin’!
    Thanks Tipper
    PS…I don’t think they are near as “skeery” lookin’ after they dry off and energize them selves as they are when they first emerge!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 3, 2014 at 8:50 am

    The Grandchildren and I were just listening to the jar flies Monday.
    We have the ones that start off very fast…eee-ooo-eee-ooo-ee-oo-eeeee-oooooo and ends with a long oooooo! The ones here are a darker green, charcoal wings sometimes red around the collar and reddish eyes. If my cat could talk he could tell you the exact coloration. He likes nothing better than to hear one do its “dying fall sound” out of the tree. I am sure most mountain folks have heard that sound. It is an abrupt loud buzz that bumps and stops and buzzes, as it falls through the tree limbs and leaves. Usually an effect of a bird attack or just old age…LOL
    The cat will carry it to the sidewalk. Hold on to one wing and let the poor thing buzz with the other one. If it stops he picks it up and knocks it around with one paw until it tries to buzz off again. He doesn’t eat them! Don’t know why exactly, like the mice and chipmunks he just likes to torture them. They buzz or squeak “I’m gettin’ away!” He puts out his paw and says, “No you ain’t!” So cruel, if I happen to see this torment, I try to intervene and save or at least hide the critter from the cat.
    Yes, Tipper we have the wonderful sound of late summer jar flies.
    Haven’t heard many “Katy-dids” or “didn’ts” so far, but then I’m usually in the house in the air-conditioning away from the “skeeters” by late evening!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Our 17 year brood wasn’t as bad around our place as the last one, much quieter than usual! We still heard several in the deeper woods.

  • Reply
    sheryl paul
    September 3, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Grew up hearing them, a perfect lullaby.

  • Reply
    Pamela Moore
    September 3, 2014 at 8:22 am

    They’ve been louder than usual here in Florida. So loud I want to cover my ears.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 3, 2014 at 7:15 am

    Yep, the cicadas are singing at my house. I notice them most at night when I go to bed. They sing me to sleep every night for the time they are here.
    Don’s picture sure is interesting. I didn’t realize they shed their shell.

  • Reply
    September 3, 2014 at 6:22 am

    O yea, haven’t heard that many yet this year but some years are worse than others.. Look up their enemy the Cicada Killer, huge wasp that preys on them,, I seen these also,, here is a link

  • Reply
    September 3, 2014 at 5:33 am

    They sound differently in Rhode Island than they do where I grew up in Oklahoma (we had the “weeeee-ow-weeeeee-ow” kind). Would love to visit Appalachia and see (hear) if yours sound like mine did.

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