The Differences Between Cicadas and Locusts
Locusts and Cicadas Are Not the Same
People often confuse locusts and cicadas. In some areas, cicadas are even known colloquially as locusts, or 13- or 17-year locusts. Despite their apparent similarity and the confusion surrounding the name, cicadas and locusts are entirely different animals.
Cicadas are from the order Homoptera, which they share with plant lice and leaf hoppers. There are over 2,500 different species of cicadas that live on every continent except for Antartica, and they reproduce in cycles, whereby certain generations re-emerge after periods of 2, 5, or even 17 years (which is why the term 17-year locust exists).
Locusts, however, are grasshoppers that have become more hive-like in behavior and joined a swarm. Thus, the term describes not a species, but a phase or state of grasshopper.
There are 11,000 different species of grasshoppers, which are in the order Orthoptera, along with crickets and katydids. To be more specific, they generally fall into the family Acrididae (like rainbow grasshoppers and horse lubbers).
Video: Amazing Cicada Life Cycle
About the Cicada
- Physical Appearance
Cicadas have a more robust appearance than grasshoppers, with a shorter, wider body. Like I mentioned earlier, many different varieties of cicadas exist, each of them distinct in their coloring: the Magicicada, or the 17-year cicadas that made news in 2013, are characterized by their black bodies, red eyes, and wing veins, while dog day cicadas are known for their light green coloring and clear wings.
In all varieties of cicada, however, the wings always extend noticeably past their bodies.
Cicadas do not swarm and pose much less of a threat to vegetation, especially crops, than locusts do. However, they can create damage to several cultivated crops, shrubs, and trees, since females lay their eggs in branches and twigs.
Cicadas, both in their nymph and their adult state, feed on tree sap through a long proboscis. They do not bite or sting for defense, but if you let a cicada rest on you for too long, it may think your body is a tree and try to feed on you.
Male cicadas sing to attract mates, for which they have three different courtship songs. The songs are specific to their species. They also have several other calls, including alarm calls. Cicadas are known for their loud songs, which can reach such high decibels that their songs are even capable of damaging human ears.
Unlike the locust, cicadas produce their sound by contracting their abdomen, which has tymbals on both sides. The male is the primary producer of sound, and its almost hollow abdomen acts as a sound box, amplifying their call.
- Reproduction and Life Cycle
Cicadas have a fascinating and complex reproduction system compared to locusts. After mating, females make a slit in a twig with her ovipostor. This is where she will lay her eggs. Once they hatch, the nymphs drop and bury themselves underground, feeding on deciduous tree roots while maturing.
The amount of time they take to mature depends on the particular variety. Magicicadas remain in nymph state for 13 to 17 years. Dog day cicadas are more common in the United States, and they take two to five years to mature into an adult. As an adult, they only live for several months, enough time to mate and start the life cycle again.
Video: Locusts and The Great North American Locust Plague
Grasshoppers vs. Locusts
- When is a grasshopper a locust?
Like mentioned above, grasshoppers and locusts are the same animals. Some grasshopper species are known as locusts when they reach high population densities under certain environmental conditions, changing colour and behaviour and forming swarms even though they are normally solitary creatures.
The change in behavior can be triggered by certain environmental conditions (usually drought followed by rapid vegetation growth), which causes overcrowding, stimulating the production of serotonin in grasshoppers' brains. This, in turn, can cause a set of big changes: the grasshoppers change color, start to breed abundantly, and become very gregarious. When their populations get dense enough, they become nomadic, traveling in bands or swarms.
About Grasshoppers and Locusts
- Physical Appearance
Grasshoppers are much more slender than locusts and longer in shape. Their hind legs are built to be able to jump, and their wings are not as long as their body. Grasshoppers have many varieties of colors. Some are leaf green, others brown, and some are even multicolored.
Grasshoppers are plant eaters and can become pests of crops such as cereals, vegetables, and pasture. This is especially true in the locust state when they form swarms of millions.
Some species of grasshoppers do make sounds that are easily heard. However, grasshoppers are not nearly as loud as cicadas, nor do they sing as extensive a variety of songs. They create their 'songs' by rubbing either their wings together or their wings against their legs.
- Reproduction and Life Cycle
Grasshopper reproduction is much simpler than that of the cicadas: They lay their eggs in the soil, and the nymphs hatch during the spring. After several molts, the locust becomes an adult. Locusts lifespans vary, but they can go through several generations in just a year.