Cicada Facts, Folklore, and Photos

Updated on June 18, 2018
PegCole17 profile image

Peg lives on ten acres of land just northeast of Dallas with her husband, their two dogs, stray cats and the occasional opossum.

Freshly Hatched

This nymph rests upside down on the trim board of the back porch while it gathers its bearings.
This nymph rests upside down on the trim board of the back porch while it gathers its bearings. | Source

When cicadas decide to sing, the entire neighborhood echos with a shrill keening sound from the plague or brood chirping in perfect harmony. By June every year, our backyard is a haven for these winged insects whose empty shells become a regular feature anywhere they can attach themselves.

Their multitudes of brethren line the tree branches, fence, walls, steps, porch railing, the dog's water bowl and other surfaces where they can attach for their metamorphic transmutation of molting. Once firmly attached, they begin to emerge like something out of a science fiction movie.

Cicada exoskeletons line the branches of the neighboring trees.
Cicada exoskeletons line the branches of the neighboring trees.

Their invasion this year has been like a plague of locusts, indeed, something right out of the Old Testament. As I make my way along the path to the garden shed, I dodge the sticky strings of a low lying spider web and duck the swoop of a live cicada as it relocates to a different tree.

Buzzing nearby, the sound of a cicada killer wasp sends me back inside the safety of the house.

Cicada Killer Wasp

When these wasps emerge from their burrows it's time for the cicadas to fly away.
When these wasps emerge from their burrows it's time for the cicadas to fly away. | Source

Cicada Facts

  • The dog day cicada emerges each year in mid-summer.
  • Periodical cicada, aka Seventeen Year Cicada are known for their emergence every 13 or 17 years in broods.
  • Cicadas are less active around dawn and in the early morning.
  • High pitched screeching is made by the males trying to attract females.
  • Collections of Cicadas are called broods, a cloud or a plague.
  • Females deposit their eggs in tree bark or branches.
  • Life spans above ground range between five to six weeks.
  • Come in colors of green, black, red, silver, yellow, gold
  • Size: .75" to 2.25"
  • Features: Five eyes, two large on either side of the head, three ocelli between them thought to detect light and dark
  • People and animals such as dogs, squirrels, turkeys, birds, even fish eat these insects.
  • Shells have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.

Exoskeletons on the Porch Rail

Holding on to the hand rail of the deck, these cicadas have left their shells.
Holding on to the hand rail of the deck, these cicadas have left their shells. | Source

Chinese Medical Uses of the Husks

Cicada molting, or Chan Tui has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries where it serves as a symbol of immortality. Jade replicas of the cicada were known to be placed in the mouth of a deceased person much like the scarab in ancient Egypt.

The husk or exoskeleton of the cicada is harvested and considered for use as an anticonvulsant, sore throat and fever reliever as well as a treatment for allergies and sinus support.

Cicadas Molting on the Trees

A triple-decker exoskeleton of cicada hulls.
A triple-decker exoskeleton of cicada hulls.

Regarded by some as a powerful symbol of rebirth, these odd insects appear in mid-summer, buzzing and clicking away. Their tiny newly hatched nymphs crawl down tree trunks and live in holes in the ground or they fall from the branches where their mothers deposited hundreds of eggs. Some species live underground for nearly two decades.

Some cultures eat this insect preferring the meatier female. Others, such as the Chinese, use its discarded shell in traditional medicine.

How a Cicada Makes Noise

Each year around the end of April, we begin to see an influx of these strange looking creatures who've made their home in the trees. Luckily, they don't sting or even bite like some of the other insects out here.

They play their repetitious tune like a band of tiny kazoo players; an eerie sound that goes on for hours. Even my dogs become spooked by their loud keeeeening whine that continues uninterrupted, like a choir sustaining a single note indefinitely.

Not surprisingly, the males produce this noise with vibrations that come from membranes located on their abdomens. Different calls are hard to distinguish but theirs is a language of its own, whether expressing alarm or attracting a mate. Here is an example of cicada song.

Cicadas measure from three quarters of an inch long to around two and a quarter inch.
Cicadas measure from three quarters of an inch long to around two and a quarter inch. | Source

According to the National Geographic, "When young cicada nymphs hatch from their eggs, they dig themselves into the ground to suck the liquids of plant roots. They spend several early life stages in these underground burrows before surfacing as adults. The process varies in length but often takes a number of years."

With over 3,000 different species which have evolved independently over millions of years emerging at a variety of intervals, some cicadas appear every 13 years, some at 17 year intervals and some, like the ones in my back yard known as annuals, emerge every year.

These Flying Bugs are Harmless

They may be harmless and not the biting sort but when they land on you you'll know it.
They may be harmless and not the biting sort but when they land on you you'll know it. | Source

A study done in 2004 in Brazil suggests there is a strategy to their emergence during years that fall within prime numbers like 13 or 17. Perhaps it is to keep the predators guessing.

In Texas, there are over forty (40) species including the Superb Green Cicada (Tibicen superba - Fitch 1855) and the Texas Dog Day species (Tibicen texanus - Metcalf) shown in the photos.

Another visitor this time in red.
Another visitor this time in red. | Source

Periodical Cicada Hierarchy

  • Phylum: Anthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Hemiptera
  • Common name: Cicada
  • Family: Cicadidea
  • Genus: Magicicada
  • Species: Septemdecim
  • Type: Invertebrates
  • Diet: Herbivores
  • Predators: Cicada Killer Wasps

An Entomologist is a person who studies or is an expert in the branch of zoology concerned with insects. Over 800,000 species of insects have been discovered.

Source

The upside to their annual invasion is that their offspring attract birds which eat this tasty insect. This morning there was a family of brilliantly red Cardinals enjoying a feast in my back yard.

In the picture, a brand new nymph leaves its molted exoskeleton to take flight. He hangs easily upside down on the back porch before testing out his brand new lacy wings.

Emerging From His Shell

As this one emerges from his shell it appears his wings have yet to unfurl.
As this one emerges from his shell it appears his wings have yet to unfurl.

On the other hand, these odd insects attract the not-so pleasant professional Cicada killer, the wasp which uses these insects as a haven for their own reproductive cycle. The Giant Cicada Killer Wasp is huge, measuring nearly two inches.

This Dog Day Cicada, freshly emerged from its shell hangs on the side of a brick while its wings dry.
This Dog Day Cicada, freshly emerged from its shell hangs on the side of a brick while its wings dry. | Source

Predators to Cicadas

Although cicada wasps rarely sting humans, preferring to use their venom to paralyze their prey, their proximity can be alarming. They are large black and pale yellow wasps ranging in size from one and a half to two inches in length.

They also dig dime-sized holes in dirt or lawns into which they drag their paralyzed victims and lay an egg before closing the burrow. The cicada will serve as food to the killer wasp larvae which will emerge in 10-11 months.

Between swatting and ducking, I yearn for the coolness of fall when these pesky guys will once again grow quiet and remain in their dark homes underground.

Cicadas dig holes in the ground where they lay buried until ready to emerge.
Cicadas dig holes in the ground where they lay buried until ready to emerge. | Source

Cicada Song in my Backyard

Sources

  1. Cicadamania dot com
  2. National Geographic
  3. Texas A and M, Agrilife via Citybugs.TAMU.edu

They're Everywhere!

This pesky cicada emerged right outside my back door.
This pesky cicada emerged right outside my back door. | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Peg Cole

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      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        2 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Creepy crawlers, Maria. We have such a variety of them here in Texas. Never tried Scrapple but I've played Scrabble. Does that count? Yuk yuk. Never too late to drop in for a look at these cicada bugs. Thanks for the visit. Hugs to you.

      • marcoujor profile image

        Maria Jordan 

        2 weeks ago from Jeffersonville PA

        Hi Peg,

        Jiminy crickets, I also find the sounds of the cicada to be soothing, especially when sitting outside on a hot summer's night.

        Had I known these facts and seen your amazing photographs, I would likely have been creeped out - sorta like the 'Scrapple phenomenon' (love the taste - block out the ingredients).

        Forgive the lateness of this comment - I'll make it to all your recent hubs ... I learned lots with this one. Thanks! Hugs, Maria

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        2 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        They are pretty creepy, Flourish, but non-stinging, which is a good thing. I watched a mockingbird catch one of them yesterday.

        Thanks for the interest and the visit.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        3 weeks ago from USA

        Jeepers creepers these are interesting bugs. I enjoyed reading and learning about them and their wasp nemesis. We don’t have many of them but when we do my cats like to toy with them.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        3 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Thanks, William. I just tried to take another photo of a cicada on my back porch but my camera battery was low. Oh, well, I have a feeling that there will be other bugs.

      • lifegate profile image

        William Kovacic 

        3 weeks ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

        You put together a lot of good information here, Peg. I enjoyed the pictures as well. Interesting stuff!

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        3 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hi Frank, I'm wondering if these insects stay out in the country more than the city. We had them in the trees in Florida and now here in Texas.

        I'm working on a book review that I hope you'll find interesting. . . Should be out in a few days. Looking forward to your reaction.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        3 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hi Peggy, It truly is a Texas sound, although, I heard it when I lived in Florida, too. Reminds me of the Tarzan movies and the jungle. Thanks so much for your visit and comment.

      • Frank Atanacio profile image

        Frank Atanacio 

        3 weeks ago from Shelton

        Pegcole I found this educational piece so fascinating.. I don't ever recall seeing these insects... maybe I did, but I really don't remember.. now I think I'm going to make it a point to see if I see one now.. thanks for the wonderful share

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        3 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Dear Bronwen, That cicada tree certainly sounds like a fabulous gift that I'm sure your mother cherished as well. Thanks for adding that insightful comment and also for your visit.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        3 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        We know that sound well having lived in Texas for most of my life. I did learn some new information about cicadas from reading this informative article.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        3 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hi Liz, Thanks so much. I learned a lot when reading about this creature that comes every year to our yard. Nice of you to visit and comment.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        3 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hi Jackie, Sounds like a hub about the hummingbird moth would be an interesting topic. I've never heard of them. Thanks so much for finding this article interesting. I appreciate your visit.

      • BlossomSB profile image

        Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

        3 weeks ago from Victoria, Australia

        Thank you for such an interesting article. One of my little 'treasures' is a model of a tree trunk with a lovely, real size cicada. It was given to me by the mother of a Chinese school-friend many years ago.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        3 weeks ago from UK

        This is an interesting, very well-structured and well-documented article. I feel like I've learned a lot from it.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        3 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hi Dora, I've seen my dog trying to eat them and sometimes scratching at them when they come out of their holes. Not sure I want to eat these insects, although, some people do. Not even if they're covered in chocolate. :)

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 

        4 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

        Thanks for all that great information, Peg! I came across these a couple of summers ago right after discovering the hummingbird moth and thought they were a relative of theirs! They were so green just like the hummingbird with the odd wings. So many things to learn about and I never grow tired of it!

        Live and learn and I love it. Great photos!

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        What an interesting creature. Surprising that it can be eaten and for a health remedy! Thanks for the research and the report.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        4 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Thanks, Linda. I'm glad you came by to check this out. Thank you.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        4 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        This is an interesting and informative article, Peg. I love your photos. They are a great addition to the article.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        4 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Thanks for stopping by, Redfox007. I see on your profile that you've just come aboard HubPages. Welcome. I look forward to reading your first article.

      • Redfox007 profile image

        Redfox007 

        4 weeks ago

        We used to call them 17 Year Locusts. They do make some interesting noise.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        4 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hi Mary, It's an eerie sound but somehow soothing. I'm listening to it now as it's evening here. Thanks for stopping in.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        4 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

        I used to hear their loud songs when I was growing up but not much where we are now. I used to love it when I was a child.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        4 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        We do live in different worlds, Bill. I think you should keep the banana slug or I'll trade you three Daddy Long Leg spiders for it. Your climate sounds a lot more pleasant, I'll admit. Not too keen on the Zombies, though.

        Thanks for the visit and comments.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        4 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hi RedFox007, You're right about how the numbers would be worse if not for the predator wasp. Between that and the birds, they still present an awesome amount of noise.

        Thanks so much for the comment and the visit.

      • PegCole17 profile imageAUTHOR

        Peg Cole 

        4 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

        Hello Shauna, I think it's fascinating that you and your brother wore these bugs as jewelry. Maybe you were reliving a past life in Egypt. Not gross at all, in fact, I think it was innovative. I lived in Florida for years and never knew where that jungle sound came from. It was cicadas.

        Thanks so much for the visit to this buggy hub.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        It's a different world down there, Peg, filled with fascinating creatures we will never see here in the Pacific Northwest. I'll trade you a banana slug for a cicada any old day. lol

      • Redfox007 profile image

        Redfox007 

        4 weeks ago

        This is quite interesting. As for the propagation of the Cicada and the annual hatchings, just think how many there would be if not for the Wasps. This is similar to the Spider Wasp. They paralyze the spiders and inject the egg so the young can hatch and have live food from inside out. Kind of a gruesome thought.

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 weeks ago from Central Florida

        Fascinating, Peg! I didn't know cicadas take 13 to 17 years to mature and emerge. Holy mackerel!

        When my brother and I were young and lived in York, PA, we'd see those exoskeletons everywhere. We called them locusts, but I now know they were cicadas.We'd pick them off trees and wear them as rings. Now that I think about it, that was pretty gross!

        They sing their song around dusk in my Central Florida neighborhood. I actually like hearing them, although they can get quite loud.

        Your photos are amazing, Peg! Great accompaniment to your article.

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