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Picturesque Aging and Transformation of the Cicadas

May 7, 2018

Cicadas are indeed one species of bugs which have a whole lot of studies going on them due to their systematic life cycle. They have left mankind in awe with the systematic way in which various broods show up above the ground in search of a mate. In-depth experimentation and research by biologists have succeeded in figuring out the unique lifestyle of these sought-after insects.

* Emerging on the ground

Cicadas, as we know, emerge from the ground in different regions, all at once. Millions of cicadas can be seen in the region where a brood has completed its life as nymphs.

Nymph is the term used to refer to the offspring of vertebrates, usually insects, which resemble the adult as and when the eggs hatch. They undergo gradual metamorphosis before they are prepared to reach the adult stage. They resemble the adults but lack wings, therefore, they live on or under the ground till they are ready to moult.

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* Metamorphosis and Moulting. Shedding the cicada shell

These nymphs come out in broods, and each brood is consists of millions of insects. All the cicadas which belong to a single brood after reaching maturity (spending 13-17 years under the ground), select a warm summer night to emerge out of the earth. They cling to the nearest tree trunk or branch where they perform metamorphosis and moulting. In this process, a nymph leaves its cicada shell and becomes a beautiful, winged cicada. It takes about 30 minutes for a cicada to become an adult, ready to mate.

As nymphs, cicadas go through metamorphosis 4 times under the ground before they come out in the open for the fifth and final one.

The wings of cicadas, after leaving the shell are wet and flashy. The wings take a few hours to dry up and form a strong exoskeleton. Now, Cicada shells are off their bodies, and they are ready to mate.

* Mating

A few days after cicadas emerge out of their shells, a song fills the air. The music produced by cicada is yet another indicator of the arrival of the summers. Cicadas rub their forelimbs together to create the sound to attract females for mating. No matter how short the lives of cicadas is above the ground, it is full of mating. Male and female cicadas mate with multiple partners. The females then use their hind to cut slits into tree twigs and deposit their eggs there. One female can deposit up to 500 eggs. Once the females deposit the eggs, they die. Males live a few days longer and males of some species go back under the ground to stay there for the next 13-17 years.

* Behaviour of Offspring

The above mating cycle takes about 6 weeks to a couple of months to complete.

Cicada eggs hatch within a few weeks after they are laid. Once the eggs hatch, the nymphs fall on the ground and they proceed to get a place under the ground on the root of a tree, grass, plant or wood. These nymphs then live under the ground for long time periods before they can come out on the ground for shedding the cicada shell and develop wings.

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What do Cicadas feed upon?

Cicadas spend most of their life under the ground, this is probably because they mainly feed upon the xylem sap of a tree.

Xylem is a type of tissue present in the tree, grass or wood. It is responsible for the transportation of water and other nutrients to different parts of the plants.

Their mouth is like a straw to suck the sap out of the roots of the tree they are surviving upon.

Where do Cicadas live?

Wondering where on earth you can find these marvellous creatures? Well, if you live in a deciduous forest region, they are probably living in the roots of trees, right below your feet. They are found in various regions of North America.

Are Cicadas beneficial for us?

Yes, apart from being intricate parts of our ecosystem, cicadas are very useful in other everyday activities too. They are a crucial aspect of Chinese heritage and their shells serve as a great healer. Various reasons why cicadas are useful insects are:

  • Cicadas have been repeatedly been used by artists and authors from different parts of the world. The process of cicadas leaving their shells is too intriguing for these great minds to ignore. Homer’s Iliad, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Work and Days, History of Animals and Natural History are some of the major works which have a mention of cicadas.
  • Music also could not escape the charm of this creature, various lyricists have used the bug to make their works stand out. They have personified the cicadas as lovers who die singing in search of love.
  • Ancient Chinese arts have utilised the attractive patterns on Cicadas’ wings well in order to make their works stand out.
  • Cicada Shells are used as an ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine and are particularly used to cure fever, skin conditions and other ailments.
  • These chitinous shells of cicada are used to make the immune system strong and make breathing in changing weather easier for people suffering from asthma and sinus.
  • The shell gets mineralised and can be used to absorb moisture and prevent mould from developing in your house.
  • They are free and easily available, therefore, they make a good bait.
  • Empty Cicada Shell Technique: It is a technique of Ancient Insect Ninja Art used by Ninjas who follow the behaviour of insects. This technique requires a great amount of hard work and determination to master, not every ninja can pull off this technique.
  • This technique requires a Ninja to create a protective Chakra around its body and let it harden. A good Ninja knows the right time to exit the Chakra and leave a solidified shell behind.
  • This technique or Jutsu is inspired by Cicadas and it proves its significance in this ecosystem.

Cicadas are not only fascinating but useful too. One thing you can easily do is to look up cicada jewellery, and such accessories on eBay and make something on your own too. Well, what’s the harm in making a few extra bucks with what’s available for free in your backyard!

Do Cicadas Sting?

Cicadas are known for minding their own business. They live under the ground for most of their life and have no nests to protect. Therefore, after developing wings, cicadas just mate and fly around. They do not sting or bite anyone. Then again, sometimes, there have been instances where cicadas mistake human arm as branch or trunk of a tree and proceed to suck out of them. Even if they do pierce your skin, the blood they consume is negligible. These insects are not venomous also. Then again, they can be harmful to health as they may carry various diseases with them.

Are Cicadas an agricultural concern?

Though sudden outbreaks of the insect might harm the crops, but the regular emergence of cicadas near farms during summers is acceptable and not very harmful. When a huge number of females lay eggs in the twigs of the nearby trees, it becomes a difficult business to manage a huge number of nymphs because it increases the density of one single brood in the farm, which makes farming difficult at the time of their emergence.

Why do Cicadas sing?

Well, Cicada’s claim to fame is their music. They do not sing for fun but they try to find a mate during mating season with this music. Not all the species and broods of cicadas produce music which is audible to human year, some of them buzz and create vibrations which is only audible amongst these bugs.

Where should you look for cicadas in your house?

Cicadas are nature’s yet another mighty creation, which emerges above the ground after living for up to 13-17 years under it. The questions in, where can you spot them. Well, here are some of the indications which will tell you if cicadas are visiting you this summer:

  • Look for holes in the ground near roots of trees, these holes are as big as the diameter of an adult finger. These holes indicate that cicadas might emerge in your garden.
  • While you prepare your soil for the summer, i.e., turn it over or remove heavy stones, you will find the cicada nymphs preparing to emerge out.
  • Another very clear indication is cicada chimneys or turrets found majorly in urban habitats developed in deciduous forests.

Cicadas usually show up in warmer months, usually in May, later in April, early June.

When do Cicadas emerge out of the ground ?

Cicadas are known for their mysterious life cycle, of which, a major part is spent under the ground. They spend around 13-17 years underground before they emerge out of the ground for moulting and mating.

They are divided into 15 systematic broods, of which 12 live underground for 17 years and 3 live underground for 13 years.

The Cicadas, once they are aware that they have survived the right number of annual blooming of the tree they feed upon, they know it is time to go straight up for mating. They are, then, in the lookout for the perfect temperature and warmth to come out. Late April, May, and early June are the months which see an explosion of these bugs in Cicada regions.

Though these bugs come out once in every 13-17 months, there are some regions which witness their mating every year. Well, that is because, not all broods come out in a single year and there are certain species of cicadas which follow an annual cycle, not a periodical one.

How do Cicadas know when to emerge on grounds?

One more mystery to this insect is that how does a brood synchronise on when to emerge out of the ground. Valid enough. Who keeps a count for an entire brood?

There is a lot of experimentation and research going on in order to find out how certain broods of cicadas keep a track of time and come out exactly after 13- 17 years. Biologists, after years of observation, have drawn some loose conclusions. One of them is that it is probably when the temperature of the soil, 8 inches below the ground, reaches 64 degrees that the nymphs feel that it is time.

Another observation states that they keep a track of the annual renewal of xylem sap of trees they feed upon. Even if the cicadas keep a track of the annual blooming of the trees, it is intriguing to know that how they come out in a synchronised fashion as their broods.

While these two factors appear to control the life-cycle of cicadas, they may be or may not be the actual reasons.

Who can eat cicadas?

Cicadas are a common prey amongst various bigger insects, rodents and birds. They include squirrels, wasps, robber flies, spiders, mantises and bats. When there is a huge population of cicada around, some mammals, fishes, reptiles and certain amphibians also alter their foraging habits to take advantage of an easy catch. Rodents which dig the ground, such as moles attack them under the ground. Ants attack the nymphs after the eggs are hatched. Australian Cicada Wasp is probably the biggest predator of these insects as it stings them, makes them unconcise and stores them into their nests.

Cicadas have survived years and years despite the fact that almost every creature on the face of this planet can prey ion them due to various antipredator adaptations they have built up with time. These insects can camouflage themselves with their surroundings well. They fly very rapidly to escape their predators following them.

Another technique they make use of is predator satiation. Under this technique, the brood emerge out of the ground, all at once, after 13-17 years, which makes sure that there are enough insects to satiate the predators and breed. Once the predators are satisfied with their share of bugs, remaining ones can breed in peace.

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