by, Jo Carol Hebert
What is a Cicada? (Pronounced like ‘see-kay-duh’).
With over 2,000 different species (types) found in warm climates around the globe, these insects abound in endless numbers.
Called a ‘tree cricket’, they are a ‘true bug’, with big eyes, six legs, antennae and four thin wings.
Cicadas are herbivores, using a long tube like mouth to feed by sucking on plant parts. They do not bite or sting.
Babies in the larvae development stage are called nymphs and adults are imagenes.
Cicadas are 1-2 inches long.
A group of cicadas is called a ‘cloud’ or a ‘plague’. Cicadas are not locusts, who have a biting mouth that is destructive to plants.
Life Cycle of the Cicada
Females lay 400-600 eggs in the bark of trees. The larvae falls and burrows under the ground to attach to tree roots and suck the sap as they develop. The time of development differs with the species. There are two main groups of cicadas:
- Green Annuals, or ‘dog-day cicadas’, that come out of the ground each year in the summer
- Dark, red-eye Periodicals that emerge in a summer after 13-17 years in the ground
The cicadas lay eggs to complete their life cycle. Cicadas have a short lifespan above ground of only six weeks.
In this time, they shed their skin, which is left as a brittle brown skeleton on tree trunks. They sing their loud buzzing mating songs. They lay their eggs and die.
The Eastern American Periodical Cicada
A certain species of cicadas, called the Magicicada, are endemic (specific to one region) in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. In the year, 2003, a 17- year cloud of cicadas emerged in these ‘cicada’ states. Now, 2020, the next brood (called Brood IX by entomologists) of 17-year cicadas are again emerging (2020-2003 = 17).
Numbering in the millions, times 400-600 eggs – you can do the math! Again, the eggs will repeat the cycle by falling, digging back into the ground and staying for another 17 years. (Mark your calendar for their coming in the Year of 2037 – how old will you be!).
And so, goes on the life cycles of the annual and periodical cicadas.
Super Power Insects
The firefly can produce light in his stomach to attract a mate. The cicada males make a loud chorus of noise that rises and falls in a crescendo of high-pitched, droning, and buzzing sounds.
To people, it may be either interesting or annoying, but that sound is music to the ears of the female cicada. This mating call is made by ‘drum like’ plates in the stomach of the cicada that vibrate rapidly.
Cicadas of the World
The many types of cicadas on every continent, except Antarctica, provide a source of food to ‘always-hungry’ carnivores.
They are pictured in historical art, used as money, fried up crispy as a snack, used in folk medicine, and folk stories, and their sounds are copied on musical instruments.
Even entomologists don’t quite understand how these predictable, but puzzling little creatures accomplish their age-old repetitions of life. But if you have a chance to listen to their old but new song this summer, perhaps you will be a little wiser than you were before.
It is a song that announces a Time of Summer!