For an illustrated version, see pages 8-9 in The Environmentor, Vol 2 #1.


Now that summer weather is upon us, we hear the loud buzzing song of cicadas in the trees. They have spent their juvenile years underground, drinking juices from the roots of deciduous trees. Upon emerging into daylight, they shed their burrowing exoskeleton for a lovely green coat with wings. They will live above ground for just a month or two, finding mates. The females will lay eggs in twigs; the larvae will drop to the ground and repeat the cycle.

Here’s a Tex-Mex folktale about cicada (chichara in Spanish) that pretends to explain why they leave their burrowing exoskeleton someplace low, then fly up into the trees to sing. Then there are some scientific notes about cicadas.

Señor Coyote and Señor Chichara

One day Señor Coyote was walking along when he heard a wonderful song: “Zee zu zee zu zee zu!” It was Señor Chichara, sitting on a rock and singing his love song.

“I like that song,” Señor Coyote told Señor Chichara. “Teach me how to sing it.”

Señor Chichara was amazed. “This is a chichara song, not a coyote song.”

“But I like it,” said Señor Coyote. “Teach me how to sing it or -- I’ll bite you in half!”

Señor Coyote was big. Señor Chichara was small. “Okay,” said Señor Chichara reluctantly. “Please listen carefully: zee zu zee zu zee zu!”

“That’s easy,” said Señor Coyote. “Ar rar rar!”

“No, Señor Coyote, it goes zee zu zee zu zee zu!”

“That’s what I was singing: Ar rar rar!”

Señor Chichara tried many times but finally gave up. “Okay, Señor Coyote, you have learned my song. Very good.”

Coyote didn’t even say thanks. He walked away, proudly singing “Ar rar rar! Ar rar rar!” with his nose in the air. He didn’t look where he was walking. He tripped over a rock and fell, hitting his head. “Ouch! But at least I have a new song. It goes.... Wa hoo rar hooo-- No, that’s not right. Stupid Señor Chichara didn’t teach me properly.”

Señor Coyote went back to the rock where Señor Chichara was singing his love song, “Zee zu zee zu zee zu!”

“Hey Chichara! I need another lesson. You didn’t teach me very well. I already forgot your song.”

“Maybe that’s because it’s not a coyote song, it’s a cicada song. It doesn’t fit you.” 

“I don’t care. I like it. Teach me again, or--I’ll bite you in half!” So Señor Chichara tried again to teach Señor Coyote, but Coyote could only go “Ar rar rar!”

“That’s okay,” said Chichara, “it sounds fine.”

Señor Coyote walked off proudly singing “Ar rar rar! Ar rar rar!” He walked across the prairie until he saw Old Man Turtle. “Hey Old Man! Listen to this! I just learned a new song from Señor Chichara! He did- n’t want to teach me, but I made him give me lessons. He said my singing sounds just fine! Listen: Wa hoo rar hooo..” Señor Coyote had bragged so much that he had forgotten the song.

Again and again, Coyote ran back to Chichara for more singing lessons. Each time, he threatened to bite Chichara in half.

Chichara realized that Coyote would never be able to sing the cicada song properly. He worried that Coyote would become angry and bite him. He had to get out of Coyote’s reach.

Chichara found the old shell that he had worn during his youthful years underground. He put it in his place on the rock, but you could easily see that it was empty. So he filled it with a small stone. Then he climbed high into a tree, where he would be safe from Señor Coyote.

Indeed, Señor Coyote soon came back again. “Chichara! You have to give me another singing lesson!” The cicada shell on the rock didn’t answer. “Señor Chichara! I said, teach me that wonderful song!”

No answer.

“Chichara! Teach me that song or--I’ll bite you in half!”

No answer.

“Chichara, I warned you. You won’t teach me? Then I will bite you in half!” and Coyote bit down on the cicada shell. His teeth crunched through the shell and hit the stone. His teeth broke! “A ruu!” howled Señor Coyote in pain. “A ruu ruu ruu! Ruu ruu!”

Coyotes never tried to sing cicada songs again. They just sing their coyote song, A ruu ruu ruu. And the tale claims that ever since, coyotes have teeth in the front (incisors, canines) and a few in the very back (molars) of their mouths, but the middle teeth broke out when Señor Coyote bit the stone in Señor Chichara’s old shell.

Meanwhile, before cicadas sing their love songs Zee zu zee zu zee zu! they climb high into the branches of a tree, where they will be safe from coyotes.

  1. SOURCE: I heard this story many years ago from Texas storytellers who used Spanish names “Señor Coyote” and “Señor Chichara.” I don’t know any coyotes well enough to check their teeth...

Note: The on-line editor provided a picture of a coyote skull from The Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City to help answer Fran’s question. Check out the teeth where the arrow is pointing. What do you think?