cicada facts

14 Surprising Cicada Facts About The Loudest Insect on Earth

Cicadas are fascinating insects that spend most of their lives underground (sometimes up to thirteen years). Once they emerged to the surface, millions of cicadas fill the forests. These cicada facts will satisfy your curiosity if you want to learn about these note-worthy insects.

Related read: You can explore our fascinating collection of dragonfly facts and ant facts for more information on insects.

14 Cicada Facts

cicada on leaf
Photo by Ashlee Marie on Unsplash

1. Cicadas belong to the order Hemiptera.

Cicadas are a group of insects belonging to the order Hemiptera, including aphids, leafhoppers, scale insects, and lerps. Scientists refer to the Hemiptera order as "true bugs," with common characteristics including piercing-sucking mouthparts and forewings that are partially hardened at the base, forming a protective shield-like structure known as hemelytra.

Cicadas share several common characteristics with other insects. They have six legs, two pairs of clear-membraned wings, and a segmented body divided into three main sections: the head, thorax, and abdomen.

2. There are two groups of cicada species.

cicada's wings
Photo by PROD83 on Pixabay

Cicadas have over 3,000 known species identified across the globe. Two groups split these cicada species: annual cicadas and periodical cicadas.

Most cicada species are annual cicadas. Contrary to their name, annual cicadas live between 3-5 years. They got their name from their behavior of emerging annually. They are abundant in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

On the other hand, only seven species belong to periodical cicadas. This group has long life cycles, emerging in massive numbers at synchronized intervals in the eastern and central parts of the United States3. The three most popular periodical cicada broods (groups of cicadas with varying cycles) are Brood X (Great Eastern Brood), Brood XIII, and Brood VII.

3. They live in forests.

One interesting cicada fact is that cicadas are flexible insects that can live on almost all continents except Antarctica. We can commonly find cicadas in forests and woodlands, where they can access various trees and plants like oaks, maples, and beeches. They also thrive in grasslands and meadows with scattered trees or shrubs.

Surprisingly, cicadas can adapt to urban and suburban environments, using ornamental trees and shrubs for egg-laying and feeding.

4. They are not locusts.

insect on stem
Phoot by makamuki0 on Pixabay

It's not uncommon to mistake cicadas for locusts since both look similar. While both undergo periodic mass emergences, cicadas are members of the order Hemiptera and possess piercing-sucking mouthparts, feeding primarily on plant fluids.

In contrast, locusts belong to the order Orthoptera - characterized by chewing mouthparts and consuming vegetation in vast swarms when they undergo a behavioral transformation called gregarization.

5. Cicadas can live up to 17 years living underground.

The life of cicada nymphs is fascinating and characterized by an exceptionally long lifespan spent chiefly underground. When female cicadas lay their eggs in the bark of young trees and other woody plant tissues, they often select sites where the young nymphs can access the plant roots. Once hatched, the nymphs drop to the ground and begin digging into the soil, where they will spend most of their lives.

During their underground existence, cicada nymphs feed on the sap from tree roots, slowly growing and molting through several instars over a period ranging from two to seventeen years, depending on the species. The extended lifespan allows them to avoid most predators and take advantage of the vast resources provided by tree roots.

6. They emerge in mass numbers.

cicada on wooden surface
Photo by Shannon Potter on Unsplash

When the ground reaches 74 Fahrenheit, and the nymphs are ready to turn into adult cicadas, large swarms emerge from underground (also called cicada emergence). This number can reach billions, just like in the case of Brood X.

However, not all cicadas come up in such large numbers. Species from the annual cicada group usually exhibit this phenomenon. White nymphs climb the nearest vertical surface and will undergo their final molt. They will soon shed their nymph exoskeleton and develop wings.

7. Cicadas mate pretty loudly.

Next on our cicada facts list: Cicadas leave their underground homes just for one reason- to mate. The mating season of cicadas is characterized by loud noises and a distinctive chorus of male cicadas calling for mates1. Male cicadas produce these calls by contracting specialized ridged membranes called tymbals at their abdomens' base. The sound can be as loud as 100 decibels and is used to attract females.

Once a female cicada is attracted to a male calling, the pair engages in a courtship ritual. The female evaluates the male's calling prowess, and mating occurs if she finds him suitable. Mating can take place on tree branches, leaves, or other surfaces. After successfully reproducing, all adult cicadas die.

Did you know that grasshoppers also sing to attract mates? The sound produced by male grasshoppers is known as "stridulation." Read more about it by visiting our grasshopper facts.

8. Females deposit their eggs into tree trunks and branches.

close up view of an insect
Photo by Nicolas Pratlong on Unsplash

Once female cicadas have successfully mated with males. They search for sites on tree trunks or branches to deposit their eggs. Using their ovipositor, a specialized egg-laying organ, the female pierces the bark and places her eggs securely within the tree's tissues.

The choice of location is essential for the survival of the eggs, as it provides protection and access to the necessary nutrients for the developing nymphs. The eggs remain hidden and protected within the tree. Then, the eggs hatch into nymphs.

9. Their mass emergence is a survival strategy.

Though scientists can't identify the significant reason why periodical cicadas emerge in mass number, it was believed that it was to enhance their chances of reproductive success and evade predation. By synchronizing their life cycles and appearing in overwhelming numbers, the periodical cicada ensures a high density of individuals in the exact location, making it difficult for predators to consume all the available individuals.

During these events, the abundance of cicadas acts as a form of predator satiation, where predators become overwhelmed by the quantity of prey, leaving enough individuals to survive and mate, securing the next generation. Additionally, the short, intense period of emergence minimizes the risk of detection for individual cicadas, as they emerge all at once and overwhelm potential predators.

10. Their wings are waterproof and antimicrobial.

cicada side view
Photo by DenisDoukhan on Pixabay

Another fascinating fact about cicadas is that their wings possess remarkable characteristics that make them waterproof and antimicrobial, as highlighted by Scientific American. The wings of cicadas have a unique microstructure that repels water, preventing it from penetrating and causing damage. This water-repellent property allows cicadas to remain active even during rainy conditions.

Additionally, the surface of cicada wings has been found to possess antimicrobial properties. Studies have shown that the wings of cicadas contain nanostructures that inhibit the growth of bacteria. This natural defense mechanism helps protect the wings from microbial colonization, potentially preventing infections or damage.

11. Cicada killer wasps are their number one predator.

Cicada killer wasps (Sphecius speciosus) are notable for their size and appearance. Adult females can grow up to two inches long and have black bodies with yellow markings. They are found in various regions of North America.

These wasps get their name from their hunting behavior2. Female cicada killers capture cicadas, which they use as a food source for their offspring. The females paralyze the cicadas with their stingers, carrying them back to lay their eggs in the cicada's body.

12. You can eat them.

Cicadas are a rich source of protein, essential for building and repairing tissues in the body. Additionally, they contain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, making them a highly nutritious food choice.

Moreover, in certain cultures, eating cicadas holds historical and cultural significance. They are considered a traditional delicacy for Native American tribes. Some countries in Asia, like Myanmar and Malaysia, enjoy eating this exotic food.

13. They can regulate their body temperature through evaporative cooling.

insect on branch
Photo by Πασκαλ on Pixabay

Cicadas can uniquely regulate their body temperature, maintaining a relatively stable internal temperature. Unlike most insects that rely on external heat or cooling sources, cicadas use evaporative cooling.

When exposed to high temperatures, cicadas increase the circulation of bodily fluids, including hemolymph (insect blood), to their tymbals. This enhances moisture evaporation from their bodies, helping them dissipate excess heat and lower their body temperature.

14. Cicadas are not considered endangered species.

As a group, cicadas are not globally recognized as threatened or endangered. Most cicada species have stable populations. However, specific species or populations of cicadas may face localized threats or have limited ranges. Factors like habitat loss, deforestation, pollution, climate change, and insecticide use can negatively impact cicadas in certain areas.

Periodical cicadas are highly sensitive to climate, especially temperature changes, which significantly affect their life cycle and emergence patterns4.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) maintains the Red List of Threatened Species, which assesses the conservation status of various organisms. According to the IUCN, the periodical cicadas Magicicada cassini, Magicicada septendecim, and Magicicada septendecula are listed as lower risk/near threatened on the Red List.

We hope you enjoyed this list of interesting facts about cicadas!

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with C.

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1

 Hou, Z., Wei, S., & Wei, C. (2022). The best of both worlds is that cicada males change costly signals to achieve mates while females choose a mate based on calling and courtship songs. Current Zoology, 68(6), 716–725.

2

Coelho, J. R., Holliday, C. W., & Hastings, J. M. (2019). Intra- and Interspecific Prey Theft in Cicada Killers (Hymenoptera: Apoidea:Sphecius). Journal of Insect Science, 19(1).   

3

Williams, K. S., & Simon, C. (1995). The Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution of periodical cicadas. Annual Review of Entomology, 40(1), 269–295.

4

Moriyama, M., & Numata, H. (2019). Ecophysiological responses to climate change in cicadas. Physiological Entomology, 44(2), 65–76.

Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.

Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.

Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.

Photo by Bill Nino on Unsplash
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