Cicada Rhythms: Unveiling Their Mysterious Lifecycles

Cicadas are insects known for long life cycles and mating songs. They live in various climates, undergo extended development periods underground, and have unique mating behaviors.

Cicada Basics

Cicadas are a fascinating group of insects known for their distinctive songs and extended developmental stages.

They belong to the order Hemiptera and are unique in many aspects of their biology and behavior.

Species Diversity

Cicadas feature an impressive range of species, with over 3,000 identified worldwide.

They are mostly found in temperate to tropical climates, thriving in a variety of environments, particularly forests.

Each cicada species has a distinct song used by males to attract females, and these songs can vary significantly even within a single local population.

Physical Characteristics

Adult cicadas are recognizable by their prominent compound eyes, set wide apart on their head, and their transparent, membranous wings.

They also have three small simple eyes (ocelli) and an exoskeleton that they molt from in their final transition from nymph to adult.

Cicadas are part of the family Cicadidae and are not to be mistaken with locusts, which are a type of grasshopper.

Their lifecycle includes a prolonged period underground as nymphs, which can last from a few years to several decades depending on the species.

Behavior and Life Cycle

A cicada emerges from the ground, sheds its exoskeleton, and begins its adult life, singing in the trees and laying eggs in the bark

Cicadas are fascinating insects known for their loud mating calls and remarkable life cycles that include years spent underground followed by a brief, but prolific, period above soil.

Their unique developmental phases and mating behaviors captivate both the scientific community and the public.

Development and Growth

Cicadas start their life as rice-grain-sized eggs deposited in the twigs of trees.

Once hatched, the tiny nymphs fall to the ground and begin their life underground.

Burrowing into the soil, they feed on the juices of plant roots.

They go through several stages of growth, or instars, as they develop into adulthood.

This subterranean phase can last an astonishing 13 to 17 years for periodical cicadas, making them a subject of great interest.

Broods of periodical cicadas, like the Magicicada species, are known either as 17-year cicadas or 13-year cicadas depending on their life cycle length.

Unlike their periodical counterparts, annual cicadas have a shorter life cycle, emerging every year.

Cicada nymphs spend nearly their entire lives digging and living in these underground burrows until it’s time for their final molt.

This stage is where they transition into adults, shedding their exoskeletons in a process known as molting.

This happens above ground on tree trunks or other vertical surfaces, where they emerge as winged adults ready for their short-lived terrestrial life.

Mating Rituals

Males are renowned for their loud and distinctive mating call which they produce by vibrating membranes called tymbals on the sides of their abdomen.

This mating call is a well-known sound of summer in many regions, particularly in North America.

It’s not just noise; it’s an intricate serenade to attract females.

Once a female is enticed by the male’s call, she will signal her readiness to mate by flicking her wings.

After mating, the female cicada uses her specialized ovipositor to cut slits into tree branches where she lays her eggs.

This remarkable life cycle and peculiar behavior help differentiate cicadas from locusts, with which they are often incorrectly associated.

These cycles of emergence create massive broods or groups that can form dense clouds of bugs, a survival technique overwhelming predators through their sheer numbers and allowing enough cicadas to survive and reproduce.

Explore the ecology, behavior, and evolution of periodical cicadas to understand the complexity of these intriguing insects.

Each brood emerges in different years, filling the grasslands and forests with a cacophonous symphony that heralds the continuation of their life cycle.

For more on their unique patterns, delve into studies on the priming of periodical cicada life cycles.

Ecological Impact and Human Interaction

Cicadas emerge from the ground, trees sway in the breeze, and animals interact with the buzzing insects in a lush forest setting

Cicadas have a significant ecological role and have interacted with humans in many ways, from annoying city-dwellers with their loud summer choruses to inspiring pieces of music and culture.

Cicada Influence on Ecosystems

Cicadas, particularly periodic ones like Brood X, create an immense impact on their ecosystems due to their large numbers.

They emerge in massive groups after spending years underground, synchronizing with soil temperature changes.

These events, often referred to as ‘plagues’ due to their biblical swarm-like appearance, provide a bountiful food source for a variety of predators, including birds, spiders, wasps, and the ‘dog-day cicada’ predator, the cicada killer wasp.

In places like the eastern United States, the emergence of these insects adds substantial biomass to the forest floor.

Studies like the one on cicada detritus impacts show that cicada fall can influence stream ecosystem metabolism, demonstrating their role in nutrient cycling.

Cicada nymphs, possessing sucking mouthparts, feed on sap from tree roots, playing a part in the subterranean ecology long before they are seen or heard.

Cicadas in Culture

Cultures around the world have developed various interpretations and uses for cicadas.

For instance, some cultures regard these insects as symbols of rebirth or immortality, given their long life cycles and sudden rebirth-like emergence.

In parts of Asia, cicadas are treasured; their singing is considered musical, and some species like the Magicicada cassini are specifically noted for their sound production.

Art and literature in Australia and Asia often depict cicadas for their iconic transparent wings with intricate veins.

In these regions, the Cicadoidea family, including species like Cyclochila australasiae, often feature in folklore and art.

Cicadas have left their mark not only on the forest floor but also in human art, music, and storytelling traditions. Cicada’s influence on culture is evident in the myriad ways these insects are woven into the fabric of human society.