Thopha saccata

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Thopha saccata
AustralianMuseum cicada specimen 47.JPG
T. saccata male specimen on display at the Australian Museum
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hemiptera
Family: Cicadidae
Genus: Thopha
T. saccata
Binomial name
Thopha saccata
(Fabricius, 1803)
Thopha saccata range
  • Tettigonia saccataFabricius, 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.

Cicada Superfamily of insects

The cicadas are a superfamily, the Cicadoidea, of insects in the order Hemiptera. They are in the suborder Auchenorrhyncha, along with smaller jumping bugs such as leafhoppers and froghoppers. The superfamily is divided into two families, Tettigarctidae, with two species in Australia, and Cicadidae, with more than 3,000 species described from around the world; many species remain undescribed.

Johan Christian Fabricius Danish zoologist

Johan Christian Fabricius was a Danish zoologist, specialising in "Insecta", which at that time included all arthropods: insects, arachnids, crustaceans and others. He was a student of Carl Linnaeus, and is considered one of the most important entomologists of the 18th century, having named nearly 10,000 species of animals, and established the basis for the modern insect classification.


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.

Thorax (insect anatomy) body part of an arthropod

The thorax is the midsection (tagma) of the insect body. It holds the head, legs, wings and abdomen. It is also called mesosoma in other arthropods.


The tymbal is the corrugated exoskeletal structure used to produce sounds in insects. In male cicadas, the tymbals are membranes in the abdomen, responsible for the characteristic sound produced by the insect. In tiger moths, the tymbals are modified regions of the thorax, and produce high-frequency clicks. In lesser wax moths the left and right tymbals emit high frequency pulses that are used as mating calls.

Sclerophyll A type of vegetation that has hard leaves, short internodes and leaf orientation parallel or oblique to direct sunlight

Sclerophyll is a type of vegetation that has hard leaves, short internodes and leaf orientation parallel or oblique to direct sunlight. The word comes from the Greek sklēros (hard) and phyllon (leaf).


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]

A genus is a taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, as well as viruses, in biology. In the hierarchy of biological classification, genus comes above species and below family. In binomial nomenclature, the genus name forms the first part of the binomial species name for each species within the genus.

<i>Thopha</i> cicada genus

Thopha is a genus of cicada native to Australia. Five species are recognised, the double drummer, the northern double drummer, the golden drummer, T. emmotti and T. hutchinsoni. Within sessiliba, two subspecies are recognized, the nominotypical form and T. sessiliba clamoris Moulds and Hill.

Charles Jean-Baptiste Amyot French lawyer/entomologist

Charles Jean-Baptiste Amyot was a French lawyer and entomologist especially interested in the Hemiptera.

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]

Félix Édouard Guérin-Méneville French entomologist, author and editor

Félix Édouard Guérin-Méneville, also known as F. E. Guerin, was a French entomologist.

Type species term used in zoological nomenclature (also non-officially in botanical nomenclature)

In zoological nomenclature, a type species is the species name with which the name of a genus or subgenus is considered to be permanently taxonomically associated, i.e., the species that contains the biological type specimen(s). A similar concept is used for suprageneric groups called a type genus.

In biology, a tribe is a taxonomic rank above genus, but below family and subfamily. It is sometimes subdivided into subtribes. By convention, all taxonomic ranks above genus are capitalized, including both tribe and subtribe.


Face on, showing small red ocelli and eyes - southeast Queensland Thophasaccataface.jpg
Face on, showing small red ocelli and eyes – southeast Queensland
Female T. saccata on carpet Thophasaccatabluecarpet.jpg
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. [11] They have an array of cuticular nanostructures—conical protuberances with a spacing and height of about 200  nm, tipped with a spherical cap with a radius of curvature of around 25–45 nm—on the transparent panes of their wings. [16] These act as anti-wetting and anti-reflective surfaces. [16] The legs are dark brown and have grey velvety hairs. [11]

Insect wing body part used by insects to fly

Insect wings are adult outgrowths of the insect exoskeleton that enable insects to fly. They are found on the second and third thoracic segments, and the two pairs are often referred to as the forewings and hindwings, respectively, though a few insects lack hindwings, even rudiments. The wings are strengthened by a number of longitudinal veins, which often have cross-connections that form closed "cells" in the membrane. The patterns resulting from the fusion and cross-connection of the wing veins are often diagnostic for different evolutionary lineages and can be used for identification to the family or even genus level in many orders of insects.


The prothorax is the foremost of the three segments in the thorax of an insect, and bears the first pair of legs. Its principal sclerites are the pronotum (dorsal), the prosternum (ventral), and the propleuron (lateral) on each side. The prothorax never bears wings in extant insects, though some fossil groups possessed wing-like projections. All adult insects possess legs on the prothorax, though in a few groups the forelegs are greatly reduced. In many groups of insects, the pronotum is reduced in size, but in a few it is hypertrophied, such as in all beetles (Coleoptera), in which the pronotum is expanded to form the entire dorsal surface of the thorax, and most treehoppers, in which the pronotum is expanded into often fantastic shapes that enhance their camouflage or mimicry. Similarly, in the Tetrigidae, the pronotum is extended backward to cover the flight wings, supplanting the function of the tegmina.

Antenna (biology) appendages used for sensing in arthropods

Antennae, sometimes referred to as "feelers", are paired appendages used for sensing in arthropods.

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]

<i>Thopha sessiliba</i>

Thopha sessiliba, commonly known as the northern double drummer, is an Australian cicada native to Queensland, the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia. Adults perch almost exclusively on ghost gums.

The Comstock–Needham system is a naming system for insect wing veins, devised by John Comstock and George Needham in 1898. It was an important step in showing the homology of all insect wings. This system was based on Needham's pretracheation theory that was later discredited by Frederic Charles Fraser in 1938.

Male cicadas make a noise to attract females, which has been described as "the sound of summer". [17] The song of the double drummer is extremely loud—reportedly the loudest sound of any insect [18] —and can reach an earsplitting volume in excess of 120  dB if there are large numbers of double drummers at close range. [14] [19] Monotonous and dronelike, the song is said to resemble high-pitched bagpipes. [20] 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. [21]

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", [22] 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. [23] Double drummers congregate in groups to amplify their calls, which likely drives off potential bird predators. [24] Male double drummers also emit a distress call—a sharp fragmented irregular noise—upon being seized by a predator. [12] [24]

Life cycle

Pair of mating double drummers, Southeast Queensland Thophasaccataabove.jpg
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. [25] 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. [17] 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. [25] The larvae then fall to the ground and burrow into the soil. [26] Though the timing of the double drummer's life cycle is unknown, [27] nymphs of cicadas in general then spend from four to six years underground. [28] 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, [29] 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. [27] 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. [30] [31] During this time, they mate and reproduce, and feed exclusively on sap of living trees, sucking it out through specialised mouthparts. [32] Female cicadas die after laying their eggs. [12]

Distribution and habitat

Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis) in sclerophyll forest, Sydney Blackbutt St Ives.JPG
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. [33] [34]

Female T. saccata (behind, left) male (front, right) Thophasaccatasideon.jpg
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. [35] 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 ). [34] Nymphs feed primarily on the roots of eucalypts. [36]

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. [27] 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. [37] Thopha cicadas have also been found in the stomachs of foxes. [38] The double drummer is one of the large cicada species preyed on by the cicada killer wasp (Exeirus lateritius), [37] 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. [39]

Interactions with humans

This illustration of Thopha saccata appeared in the 1885 Elementary Text-book of Entomology by William Forsell Kirby. Thopha saccata Kirby 1885.png
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. [19] Live adults brought into classrooms by their captors would startle the class with their piercing sound. [40] Poems dedicated to the double drummer appeared in the Catholic Press in 1933 and 1936, describing bird predation and its life cycle to children. [41] [42]

See also

Related Research Articles

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<i>Cyclochila australasiae</i> species of insect

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<i>Aleeta curvicosta</i> species of insect

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