Meet the Animals

The Symphony of Cicadas: Exploring the Remarkable World of These Fascinating Insects

Introduction to Cicadas

Cicadas are fascinating insects that are known for their distinct appearance and unique life cycle. With their glistening wings and protruding eyes, these creatures have intrigued scientists and nature enthusiasts alike.

In this article, we will explore the different species of cicadas and their geographic distribution. We will also delve into the intriguing world of periodical cicadas, focusing on their behavior and distribution in the United States.

So let’s embark on this educational journey and unravel the secrets of these remarkable insects!

Description of Cicadas

Cicadas belong to the order Hemiptera and are often mistaken for large flies due to their size and noise-producing ability. More than 3,000 species of cicadas have been identified worldwide, each with their own unique appearances and characteristics.

– Species: Cicadas can be found on every continent except for Antarctica. They are most abundant in Asia and the Americas, with Australia harboring the highest number of species.

Some notable species include the Neotibicen canicularis found in North America and the Magicicada septendecim species found in the eastern United States. – Appearance: Cicadas have a distinct appearance that distinguishes them from other insects.

They have elongated bodies, transparent wings, and large eyes set wide apart. Their bodies are often adorned with intricate patterns and vibrant colors, making them a sight to behold.

– Wings: Cicadas are known for their remarkable wings, which are typically longer than their bodies. These wings help them in flight and produce the distinct buzzing sound that they are famous for.

The wings of cicadas are delicate and thin, similar to tissue paper, allowing them to create a crisp, high-pitched sound. – Eyes: One of the most striking features of cicadas is their large, protruding compound eyes.

These eyes provide them with a wide field of vision, helping them detect predators and navigate their surroundings efficiently. – Size: Cicadas come in various sizes, with some species measuring as little as half an inch and others reaching up to two inches in length.

The smallest species are often found in temperate regions, while the largest species are commonly found in tropical areas.

Geographic Distribution of Cicadas

Cicadas can be found on every continent (except Antarctica), displaying their adaptability to various habitats around the world. Let’s explore the different continents where cicadas thrive.

– Australia: Australia is home to more than 200 species of cicadas, making it a hotspot for these fascinating insects. The unique geographic isolation of the continent has led to the evolution of numerous endemic species, making the Australian cicada fauna particularly diverse and intriguing.

– New Zealand: Although New Zealand has a relatively small number of cicada species compared to Australia, they still play an important role in the country’s ecosystem. The cicadas in New Zealand are predominantly found in native forests, where their distinctive calls fill the air during the warmer months.

– Africa: Cicadas can be found throughout Africa, with the highest diversity of species in South and East Africa. The African cicada species vary in size, coloration, and calling songs, adding to the rich tapestry of biodiversity in the continent.

– North America: The cicada diversity in North America is most notable in the United States, where approximately 170 species exist. These insects thrive in a range of habitats, from forests to urban areas, and their unique buzzing sounds often punctuate the summer air.

– South America: South America is home to an array of cicada species, with Brazil boasting the highest diversity. These insects are an integral part of the Amazon rainforest ecosystem, contributing to the intricate web of life in this biodiverse region.

– Asia: Asia is a hotspot for cicada diversity, with numerous species found across the continent. The sounds of cicadas are particularly prevalent in the humid forests of Southeast Asia, where their distinctive calls create a symphony of nature.

– Pacific Islands: The Pacific Islands, such as Fiji and Hawaii, are also home to cicadas. These islands support endemic species that have evolved in isolation, showcasing unique adaptations and behaviors.

– Europe: Although cicadas are not as abundant in Europe compared to other continents, some species can still be found in certain regions. The European cicadas contribute to the continent’s biological diversity, adding to the richness of its ecosystems.

Periodical Cicadas

One of the most intriguing aspects of the cicada world is the phenomenon of periodical cicadas. These remarkable insects have a unique life cycle that spans over a long period of time.

Characteristics and Behavior of

Periodical Cicadas

Periodical cicadas are different from their annual counterparts in that they have lifecycles that last 13 or 17 years. This extended development period is a fascinating adaptation that allows them to avoid predators and maximize their chance of survival.

– Broods: Periodical cicadas are grouped into different broods based on the years of their emergence. Each brood consists of cicadas that emerge during the same year and in the same geographic area.

These broods are designated by a number, and the cicadas in each brood share a genetic kinship. – Emergence: After spending years underground, periodical cicadas emerge synchronously in massive numbers when their time comes.

This mass emergence ensures a higher chance of survival for individuals, as predators are overwhelmed and the chances of successful mating increase. – Mating: Once above ground, periodical cicadas engage in a flurry of mating activity.

Males produce loud calling songs to attract females, and successful courtship results in the deposition of eggs in tree branches. The male cicadas die shortly after mating, leaving the females to finish the lifecycle.

– Underground: The majority of a periodical cicada’s life is spent underground as a nymph. These nymphs feed on sap from tree roots, slowly growing and developing until the time is right for them to emerge.

– Lifespan: The lifespan of periodical cicadas is one of the longest among insects. After emerging as adults, these cicadas have a short window of opportunity to breed before they perish.

The females lay their eggs in tree branches, and once hatched, the nymphs fall to the ground, burrow into the soil, and begin their long underground journey. Geographic Distribution of

Periodical Cicadas in the United States

In the United States, periodical cicadas emerge in different states during specific years, leading to unique natural phenomena that captivate both scientists and the general public.

– Brood XIII: Brood XIII is one of the famous periodical cicada broods in the United States. These cicadas emerge every 17 years, creating a spectacle in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

The synchronized emergence of millions of cicadas is a sight to behold, with their loud calls filling the summer air. – Brood Chart: The distribution of periodical cicadas in the United States is often depicted using a brood chart.

This chart shows the various broods and the years they emerge, allowing enthusiasts to plan their travel and witness these captivating events. – States: Periodical cicadas can be found in several states across the United States, including Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, to name a few.

These states experience mass emergences of periodical cicadas at different times, providing unique opportunities for study and observation. – Years: Depending on the brood, periodical cicadas emerge in different years.

For example, Brood X, one of the largest broods, emerges every 17 years, resulting in a spectacular phenomenon in states such as Maryland, North Carolina, and Ohio.


Cicadas are remarkable insects that captivate the imagination with their intriguing life cycles, distinctive appearances, and unique sounds. Their geographic distribution spans continents and showcases the adaptability of these fascinating creatures.

Periodical cicadas, with their synchronized emergences and long lifecycles, offer a particularly captivating natural spectacle in the United States. As we continue to delve into the mysteries of nature, exploring and understanding the world of cicadas provides us with valuable insights into the astonishing diversity and complexity of our planet’s ecosystems.

Annual Cicadas

While periodical cicadas may steal the spotlight with their long life cycles and synchronized emergences, their annual counterparts are equally fascinating. Annual cicadas, as the name suggests, have much shorter life cycles, typically lasting only a year.

In this section, we will explore the characteristics and behavior of annual cicadas, as well as their geographic distribution. Characteristics and Behavior of

Annual Cicadas

Annual cicadas, also known as dog-day cicadas, are the most common variety of cicadas.

Unlike periodical cicadas, which spend most of their lives underground, annual cicadas have a relatively short lifespan, spending the majority of it above ground. – Common Variety: Annual cicadas are found in various parts of the world and are known for their characteristic buzzing sounds during the warmer months.

Their calls are especially common during the dog days of summer, hence the nickname “dog-day cicadas.”

– Lifespan: Unlike their periodical counterparts, annual cicadas have a much shorter lifespan, typically living for just a year. This relatively brief life cycle is still filled with fascinating behavior and adaptations to maximize their chances of survival.

– Emergence: Annual cicadas emerge from the ground as nymphs during the spring or early summer, after spending several years underground. Once emerged, they shed their nymphal exoskeletons and transform into winged adults.

– Survival Strategies: Annual cicadas maximize their chances of survival through various strategies. One such strategy is their prolific and synchronized emergence, overwhelming predators with sheer numbers.

Additionally, their loud calls serve as a deterrent to potential predators, signal for mating, and establish territory. Geographic Distribution of

Annual Cicadas

Annual cicadas can be found in various countries and continents around the world.

While their distribution may vary, they play an important role in the ecosystems they inhabit. – Countries: Annual cicadas can be found in numerous countries worldwide.

They are particularly abundant in regions with a warm climate and ample vegetation. Examples of countries where annual cicadas are prevalent include the United States, China, Japan, India, and Brazil.

– Continents: Annual cicadas are present on every continent except for Antarctica. They display incredible adaptability to different environments and have evolved distinct characteristics based on the diverse ecosystems they inhabit.

Factors Influencing Cicada Locations

The geographic distribution of cicadas is influenced by various factors, including endemism and habitat requirements. Understanding these factors helps us appreciate the evolutionary significance and ecological importance of cicadas in different regions.

Endemism of Cicadas

Endemism refers to the presence of species that are unique to a specific geographic region. Many cicada species are endemic to certain areas, and their localized distributions have profound implications for their survival and evolution.

– Geographic Region: Endemic cicadas are often confined to specific geographic regions due to factors such as isolation, habitat specificity, and interactions with other species. These cicadas have evolved distinct characteristics that enable them to thrive in their particular region and contribute to the region’s biodiversity.

– Travel and Spreading: While some endemic cicadas may have limited travel capabilities, others have mechanisms in place to disperse and colonize new areas. These mechanisms include flight capabilities, hitchhiking on birds or other animals, or even human-assisted transportation.

These dispersal mechanisms help expand their range and establish populations in new locations. – Survival: Endemic cicadas face unique challenges and opportunities for survival.

They have adapted to specific environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and vegetation, allowing them to thrive in their native habitats. However, their limited distribution also makes them vulnerable to changes in their environment or the introduction of invasive species.

Habitat Requirements for Cicadas

Cicadas have specific habitat requirements necessary for their survival and reproductive success, as they rely on specific plants and trees for laying their eggs and nurturing their nymphs. – Eggs: Female cicadas lay their eggs in slits they make in branches or twigs.

They prefer certain tree species for egg-laying, such as oak, maple, hickory, and dogwood. The specific tree species used may vary depending on the cicada species and geographic location.

– Trees: Trees play a crucial role in the lifecycle of cicadas. In addition to providing a suitable substrate for egg-laying, trees also provide nourishment for the nymphs.

The nymphs feed on the sap from tree roots, extracting the necessary nutrients to grow and develop underground. – Nymphs: After hatching from the eggs, cicada nymphs fall to the ground and burrow into the soil.

The nymphs remain underground, often for multiple years, depending on the species. During this time, they feed on root sap and undergo successive instars, shedding their exoskeletons as they grow larger.

– Weather: Cicadas are more abundant in areas with warm climates and higher humidity levels. These conditions provide optimum conditions for their survival and development.

However, different species may have varying tolerances to temperature and humidity, leading to their distribution in different regions. – Plants: Cicadas rely on specific plants and trees not only for egg-laying but also for their adult feeding.

They have specialized mouthparts designed for piercing and sucking sap from plants. The variety of plant species available in a particular region influences the types of cicadas that can thrive there.

By understanding the unique characteristics, behaviors, and geographic distribution of annual cicadas, we gain a deeper appreciation for these remarkable insects. Their adaptability, survival strategies, and interactions with their habitats and environment reveal the intricate web of life and the interconnectedness of organisms within ecosystems.

The study of cicadas continues to shed light on the ever-evolving and wondrous world of nature. Synchronized Emergence of

Periodical Cicadas

One of the most captivating natural phenomena is the synchronized emergence of periodical cicadas.

These remarkable insects, with their long life cycles, emerge in massive numbers, creating a spectacle that is both awe-inspiring and scientifically fascinating. In this section, we will explore the survival advantage of mass emergence and the influence of weather on cicada life cycles.

Survival Advantage of Mass Emergence

The synchronized emergence of periodical cicadas provides them with a survival advantage. While it may seem counterintuitive for so many insects to emerge simultaneously, this mass emergence actually helps increase their chances of survival.

– Predators: Cicadas face numerous predators, including birds, mammals, and even other insects. By emerging in such vast numbers, cicadas overwhelm these predators, making it nearly impossible to consume every individual.

This survival strategy, known as predator satiation, allows a significant portion of the population to survive and reproduce. – Snacks for Predators: The mass emergence of periodical cicadas also has another advantage for predators.

The abundance of these insects provides a plentiful food source, allowing predators to feed to their heart’s content. This abundance of prey can lead to population booms for certain predator species, contributing to the overall biodiversity and ecological balance of the area.

– Reproduction: The synchronized emergence of cicadas is intricately tied to their reproductive success. By emerging in large numbers, cicadas increase the chances of finding a mate.

The loud buzzing calls of male cicadas serve as a signal to potential mates, helping them locate each other amidst the overwhelming noise. – Life Cycle: The life cycle of periodical cicadas is specifically adapted to take advantage of this mass emergence strategy.

With such long life cycles, ranging from 13 to 17 years, the chances of predators specializing in cicada predation are minimized. This extended period underground allows for time to pass and predator populations to fluctuate, thereby maximizing the survival rate of cicadas during their brief above-ground phase.

Influence of Weather on Cicada Life Cycles

Weather plays a crucial role in influencing cicada life cycles, particularly the duration of their underground period. Colder-than-average weather can have significant impacts on these remarkable insects.

– Colder-Than-Average Weather: Periodical cicadas have evolved to time their emergence based on cues from the environment, particularly temperature. They have an internal molecular clock that helps them synchronize their emergence.

However, when faced with colder-than-average weather, cicadas can delay their emergence to ensure optimal conditions for survival. This flexibility in emergence timing allows them to adapt to changing climatic conditions.

– Long Life Cycles: Colder weather can extend the length of the cicada life cycle. As nymphs, they require a certain accumulation of heat units, or degree days, to reach maturity and emerge from the ground.

In colder regions or during cooler years, this accumulation process takes longer, resulting in extended life cycles of 17 years rather than the typical 13 years. – Synchronized Reproduction: The influence of weather on cicada life cycles extends to their synchronized reproduction as well.

Cooler weather can delay the mating and egg-laying period of cicadas. This delay ensures that the offspring have a higher chance of survival, as the timing aligns with the peak availability of suitable plant hosts and food resources.

Personal Account of Cicada Emergence

The emergence of cicadas is an unforgettable experience for those fortunate enough to witness it. Their mass numbers, relentless buzzing, and unique life cycle leave a lasting impression on both young and old.

In this section, we will explore personal memories of cicada emergence and the emotional impact it can evoke.

Memories of Cicada Emergence

Many individuals have fond memories of cicada emergences. These memories often stem from childhood experiences or field trips that provide an up-close and personal encounter with these incredible insects.

– Field Trip Excursions: School field trips to areas experiencing a cicada emergence can create memories that last a lifetime. Students marvel at the sheer magnitude of the event, observing the abundance of cicadas clinging to trees, their discarded shells littering the ground, and the deafening symphony of their calls.

These field trips offer hands-on learning experiences that deepen appreciation for the wonders of nature. – Size and Abundance: The sheer size and abundance of cicadas during an emergence leave a lasting impression.

The sheer number of insects, with their vibrant colors and intricate patterns, creates a sense of awe and wonder. The experience of being surrounded by thousands of cicadas is both thrilling and humbling.

– Shells and Tunnels: The discarded exoskeletons of cicadas, known as shells, are fascinating artifacts left behind during an emergence. These empty shells can be found clinging to trees, leaving a visual reminder of the transformation and rebirth that cicadas undergo.

Tunnels created by nymphs emerging from the ground also demonstrate the remarkable journey these insects undertake. – Noise: The deafening cacophony of cicada calls is an unforgettable aspect of their emergence.

The constant buzz and hum fill the air, creating a symphony unique to cicadas. The intensity of the noise can be overwhelming, contributing to the overall experience and sense of awe.

Emotional Impact of Cicada Emergence

Cicada emergences can evoke a range of emotions in those who witness them. The excitement, fear, protection, and nostalgia associated with these events often evoke strong emotional responses.

– Excitement: Witnessing a cicada emergence can generate immense excitement, especially for nature enthusiasts and those fascinated by insects. The opportunity to observe these intriguing creatures in such large numbers and witness their unique life cycle is exhilarating.

– Fear and Fascination: For some individuals, the sheer number and appearance of cicadas can evoke a sense of fear or unease. However, this fear often coexists with a deep fascination and respect for the natural world.

Overcoming these fears and approaching cicadas with curiosity can lead to a greater appreciation of their importance and beauty. – Protection and Conservation: Cicada emergences also inspire a desire to protect and conserve these insects and their habitats.

Witnessing the fragile balance of nature and the interconnectedness of various species highlights the need to preserve the ecosystems that support cicadas and the myriad of other creatures that rely on them. – Nostalgia: Cicada emergences are often associated with specific times and places.

For those who experience multiple emergences throughout their lives, each event can trigger a sense of nostalgia, reminiscent of childhood memories or significant moments in their personal history. This nostalgia reconnects individuals to nature and serves as a reminder of the cyclical nature of life.

In conclusion, the synchronized emergence of periodical cicadas is a remarkable natural phenomenon, offering a survival advantage for these fascinating insects. Weather conditions, such as colder-than-average temperatures, can influence cicada life cycles, contributing to extended life cycles and synchronized reproduction.

Witnessing a cicada emergence creates personal memories that leave a lasting impact, evoking a range of emotions and fostering a deeper connection with the natural world. The awe and wonder sparked by these experiences remind us of the beauty and complexity of the ecosystems that cicadas inhabit, encouraging us to cherish and protect these remarkable insects and the natural habitats they rely on.

Interaction with Cicadas and Conservation

Cicadas, with their intriguing life cycles and remarkable behavior, often spark curiosity and fascination among people. This section explores the lack of threat posed by cicadas to humans, as well as the potential benefits and threats to cicadas themselves in terms of conservation efforts.

Lack of Threat from Cicadas

Despite their large numbers and distinctive appearance, cicadas pose no significant threat to humans. Understanding their behavior and feeding habits helps dispel any misconceptions regarding their potential harm.

– Bite, Sting, and Poisonous: Unlike many other insects, cicadas do not bite, sting, or inject venom into their hosts. They lack the mouthparts necessary for biting or stinging, and they are not poisonous.

Cicadas primarily feed on sap from trees, utilizing specialized mouthparts designed for piercing and sucking. – Feeding: Cicadas use their proboscis to access the sap of various tree species.

They do not cause significant damage to the trees, as they primarily feed on the fluid part of the sap without significantly affecting the overall health or survival of the tree. In fact, cicadas play a beneficial role in the ecosystem as they provide essential nutrients to the roots of trees through their feeding activities.

– Mating Behavior: Male cicadas produce loud and distinctive calls to attract female mates. These calls can be loud and may seem overwhelming, but they do not pose any threat to humans.

Cicadas can become disoriented by loud noises, often mistaking machinery or loud music for calls from potential mates. However, their confusion is temporary, and they do not pose any harm during these instances.

Potential Benefits and Threats

to Cicadas

While cicadas themselves do not pose significant threats, they face certain challenges that can impact their populations. Conservation efforts are necessary to ensure their long-term survival and the various benefits they bring to ecosystems.

– Native American Tradition: Cicadas have long been a part of Native American cultural traditions. They are significant in ceremonies, songs, and stories, symbolizing transformation and rebirth.

Preserving cicada populations honors these cultural traditions and their contributions to local heritage. – Global Warming: Climate change and global warming could disrupt cicada life cycles and populations.

Rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns may alter the synchronized emergence timing, affecting mating success and overall population stability. Monitoring and understanding the effects of climate change on cicadas is crucial for conservation efforts.

– Habitat Loss: Habitat loss due to urbanization, deforestation, and agricultural expansion can have detrimental effects on cicadas. They rely on specific trees for egg-laying and feeding, and the destruction of these trees diminishes their resources and habitats.

Protecting and restoring suitable habitats is crucial for their long-term survival. – Forest Restoration: Restoring forests and planting native tree species is beneficial for cicadas and promotes biodiversity.

Forest restoration efforts contribute to the re-establishment of sustainable ecosystems, providing vital habitats for cicadas and supporting the other species that rely on them. Strategies such as reforestation and land management practices that protect and enhance existing forested areas are essential for cicada conservation.

– Ecological Importance: Cicadas play an integral role in ecosystems as pollinators and nutrient recyclers. Their feeding activities on tree sap contribute to nutrient cycling, helping ecosystems maintain healthy soil conditions.

Additionally, their emergence provides a vital food source for various predators, contributing to the overall food web and biodiversity of an area. – Citizen Science: Engaging the public in cicada research through citizen science initiatives can provide valuable data for conservation efforts.

Citizen scientists can help monitor and document cicada emergences, distribution, and behavior. These efforts improve our understanding of cicada populations and support informed conservation decision-making.

Conservation efforts focused on cicadas involve protecting their habitats, studying their life cycles, and raising awareness about their ecological importance. By preserving their populations, we not only ensure the continuation of these mesmerizing insects but also protect the delicate balance of ecosystems in which they play a critical role.

In conclusion, cicadas pose no threat to humans and, in fact, contribute positively to the ecosystems they inhabit. Understanding the lack of harm they pose allows for appreciation and curiosity about these incredible insects.

However, cicadas face conservation challenges such as habitat loss, climate change, and disruption of their life cycles. Conserving cicadas and their habitats is vital for maintaining biodiversity, supporting cultural traditions, and preserving the delicate balance of nature.

Through collaborative efforts, citizen science, and informed conservation actions, we can work towards ensuring the long-term survival of cicadas and the ecological benefits they provide. In conclusion, this article has explored various aspects of cicadas, from their descriptions and geographic distribution to their synchronized emergence and interaction with humans.

We have seen that cicadas are intriguing insects with unique adaptations and behaviors that allow them to thrive in diverse habitats worldwide. While annual and periodical cicadas have different life cycles, both benefit from mass emergences, as they overwhelm predators and increase their chances of reproduction.

Additionally, we have discussed the importance of weather in influencing cicada life cycles and the need for conservation efforts to protect their habitats and ensure their survival. Cicadas not only play a vital role in ecosystems as pollinators and nutrient recyclers but also hold cultural significance.

By understanding and conserving these remarkable creatures, we can preserve the delicate balance of nature and honor the diverse traditions they are a part of. Let cicadas serve as a reminder of the interconnectedness and wonder of the natural world, inspiring us to appreciate and protect the biodiversity that surrounds us.

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