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Here come the Cicadas! Cicada facts, fun, and photos

Updated on July 4, 2017

In May and June, the Eastern part of the US will have a rare happening - the Arrival of the 17-year Cicadas

Okay - you may not like bugs. And if you aren't on the east coast you may not see this crowd, sweetly named "Brood II" by the insect scientists, but this is an event you should know about! Might even be worth a trip east... because after 17 years of growing underground, the red eyed "Magicicadas" are about to emerge from underground to serenade us with their song. Imagine if kids just grew underground for 17 years and then emerged as a teenager! Now that would be a shock for all of us.

Here you will learn all about the Magicicadas, their fun aspects, and some interesting science, so you can welcome their arrival with more than aggravation. Check out these cool bugs!

(photo in public domain)

First the facts - Will it be like a locust invasion? - Are they like zombies and will they bite?

Cicada by Martin Hauser
Cicada by Martin Hauser

The news sells itself on scare tactics and horror. There are lots of articles out there that talk about the emergence of the 17 year cicada in May 2013 as a horror show. "Billions of cicadas will emerge and overrun the east coast," and tell us that there will be so many that the population of the states from North Carolina to Connecticut will be outnumbered 600 to 1.

The truth is: here are a lot of insects out there. And insects outnumber us, maybe 200 million to one. An article in the New York Times reported scientists calculation that the world holds 300 pounds of insects for every pound of humans. So this "infestation" is not really that major - you might see some damaged leaves on your trees, but you also might not even see them. Relax.

The truth is: Cicadas are not nasty - they don't eat everything green in sight like locusts and they don't bite. They don't move around in swarms and they are only really interested in young trees.

What they really want to do is mate, and they have had to wait 17 years to get it! When the ground temperature reaches 64 degrees, and all the danger of frost is over, they will come out and mate. Their life isn't so long - and they will spend it in the trees. Then they will die and their babies will go back underground to suck on tree roots just like a baby bottle, and stay there for another 17 years growing just like their parents did. Then this brood will emerge in 2030.

Cicada photos from the USDA Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
You will know the 17 year Magicicada as opposed to the ones that appear every year by seeing its pretty red-orange eyes. These cicadas see the world through their rosy glasses!They have been underground for 17 years right here - and these holes show where they have been all this time.When they emerge from the ground after the soil warms up to 64 degrees, they crawl out and get ready to shed their skin.Off with the old! After shedding its skin, this cicada will begin to look for a sweetheart dressed in its new finery.  The love songs begin...They do not use their wings to make sound like crickets. They vibrate some membranes on the side of their bodies under their wings.The point of it all? Males sing to find females. Then they lay eggs and within a month their work is done. The eggs will hatch and the babies will fall to the ground, where they dig deep into the soil to hide and grow for the next 17 years.
You will know the 17 year Magicicada as opposed to the ones that appear every year by seeing its pretty red-orange eyes. These cicadas see the world through their rosy glasses!
You will know the 17 year Magicicada as opposed to the ones that appear every year by seeing its pretty red-orange eyes. These cicadas see the world through their rosy glasses!
They have been underground for 17 years right here - and these holes show where they have been all this time.
They have been underground for 17 years right here - and these holes show where they have been all this time.
When they emerge from the ground after the soil warms up to 64 degrees, they crawl out and get ready to shed their skin.
When they emerge from the ground after the soil warms up to 64 degrees, they crawl out and get ready to shed their skin.
Off with the old! After shedding its skin, this cicada will begin to look for a sweetheart dressed in its new finery.  The love songs begin...
Off with the old! After shedding its skin, this cicada will begin to look for a sweetheart dressed in its new finery. The love songs begin...
They do not use their wings to make sound like crickets. They vibrate some membranes on the side of their bodies under their wings.
They do not use their wings to make sound like crickets. They vibrate some membranes on the side of their bodies under their wings.
The point of it all? Males sing to find females. Then they lay eggs and within a month their work is done. The eggs will hatch and the babies will fall to the ground, where they dig deep into the soil to hide and grow for the next 17 years.
The point of it all? Males sing to find females. Then they lay eggs and within a month their work is done. The eggs will hatch and the babies will fall to the ground, where they dig deep into the soil to hide and grow for the next 17 years.

You don't live on the East Coast of the US? - You can get a feeling for it here...

Natural StereoScape: Cicadas
Natural StereoScape: Cicadas

Don't live in the East and want to know what you are missing? This will give you the full sound-scape.

 
Cicadas!: Strange and Wonderful
Cicadas!: Strange and Wonderful

Good book for kids who are interested.

 

How do you tell a 17 year cicada from an annual cicada? - Look at this cutie

photo by DiscoveringNewSpecies
photo by DiscoveringNewSpecies

If the cicada has black eyes, it is not a magicada. This friendly critter is an annual cicada, and comes out every year.

Some 17 year Cicada Facts

  • It is rare to see this cicada. They live 2-3 feet underground and only come out every 17 years. This is a great opportunity! They are here just to shed their skins, sing loudly to find their sweethearts, and lay eggs. That lasts about a month. Then they die, but the babies are busy deep in the soil drinking tree sap from the roots for the next 16 years before they come again.
  • They don't eat everything green in sight like locusts. They make holes in the tree bark and drink the sap. They also make slits in the bark and park their eggs there. It takes 6 weeks for the babies to hatch, fall off the tree, and go back into the soil for another 17 years.
  • Should you protect anything? Yes, your young trees. You can put nets around the trees, or pick off the cicadas with chopsticks if the tree is very small. They don't hurt the regular garden plants.
  • They don't bite or hurt people and won't bother your pets. Your pets may be interested in trying them out for a snack, though. The only potentially aggravating thing about them is their sound.
  • To be very honest, if you hold them for a long long time and they think you might be a tree, they might try to suck a little "tree sap" from your finger. That might hurt a little. You might enjoy holding them on a twig instead. ;-)
  • Their sound can be as loud as a lawn mower, but it is just the male singing love songs to attract the ladies. The noise is made by vibrating a set of membranes which are located on the side of his body just under the wings.
  • They leave behind brown casings, which are the skin they shed after leaving the ground. They can be stinky if you get piles of them, but they make great compost.

A cicada shedding its skin captured on video - Check this out and be inspired!

Sweet - we get to see a cicada molting, shedding its skin so it can carry on with its love life. It doesn't take long to change clothes, which is why you don't see it often.

This video is from a sequence of photos on Wikipedia, courtesy of T. Nathan Mundhenk, the photographer.

Cicadas are a sign of new life and resurrection in Asia

Jade Cicada from China
Jade Cicada from China

A Jade Cicada from the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), China. In ancient China people thought that the cicada represented a symbol of rebirth. It is easy to see why when you watch the video of the cicada hatching. Doesn't it look like it is being reborn?

This picture is from the

The Avery Brundage Collection, B60J583

@

THE ASIAN ART MUSEUM

200 Larkin St

San Francisco, CA 94102

415.581.3500

All about cicadas - This video is short - and really fun

This video has lots of information on the upcoming 17 year cicada arrival, and even has photos of chocolate cicadas! They are high in protein and low in fats. No carbohydrates. So if you are on a diet, well...

What to do if you get a lot of dead cicadas on your lawn

If you have had a lot of cicadas on your property, you may notice a stinky smell. This is easy to fix. Just rake them up and bury them - they make excellent compost!

So what do you think? Do you like cicadas? - Have you seen the 17 year cicadas? What do you think about bugs??

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    • profile image

      DebMartin 2 years ago

      Cicadas have always meant summer to me. Love that sound.

    • rking96 profile image

      Rick King 4 years ago from Charleston, SC

      I haven't seen any yet but I will be on the lookout for the red eyes! They are scary looking but fascinating bugs.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image
      Author

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @WhiteIsland: My brother could never phase me with bugs, and we had a pet snake for a while. He found other ways to torture me and now he regrets it. ;-) I am not crazy about big bugs only if they move quickly. The really slow ones are much easier to deal with. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • WhiteIsland profile image

      WhiteIsland 4 years ago

      I always used to think the cicada songs were the street lights buzzing in summer when I was younger. :P I have not-so-fond memories of my brother picking cicada shells off tree bark and setting them on my shoulder, then calling attention to it (like there was a giant bug on me). My dad told me he just did it for the reactions he got from me and my sisters, so once I learned to control my initial freak-out response, he stopped (miracle of miracles! ;). Now, I'm ok with them, but I just don't do well around largish bugs.

      This is the first I'd heard of the 17-year cicadas, but it was a neat lens to learn about them! Thanks for posting.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image
      Author

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @LauraHofman: They can be as loud as an airplane getting ready to take off. Ear plugs work well if you can't stand it! Somehow my brain turns it off...

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image
      Author

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @anonymous: Forest caterpillar wine? Hmmm. Perhaps something goes into the wine that is healthy. They do that here in China - in some restaurants they have big cylinders filled with all sorts of bugs, scorpions, snakes, and herbs. It is supposed to be good for you. I'll stick with tea. Do you have chocolate covered army worms??

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image
      Author

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @Cynthia Haltom: Oh no! Termites are awful! I had a swarm of termites in the yard once and called the exterminator. Once he got there, the swarm was gone, and he said our house was fine, but perhaps they were living in the mulch in the yard. Better in the mulch in the yard than in my house!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      The poll is buggy today, but I voted to keep these cuties! Fascinating that they have a 17 year layover...but are raring to spend their short lives mating and eating....now, that's the life! I've never seen or heard them since I've always lived in the north. Chocolate covered cicadas didn't take me by surprise as an idea because we always dealt with the Forest Tent Caterpillars, I think its every 10 years. No natural enemies and are also known as Army Worms and folks have come up with different recipes and even wine made with them. In a year they are most active, they seem to be everywhere and eat most leaves of plants other than oak and especially like aspen. I think I'd like your cicadas much better, no one likes army worms much. Congratulations on home page honors, I'm doing the dance of joy with you! :)

    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 4 years ago from Diamondhead

      I would much rather have a swarm of cicadas than the swarm of termites we are having right now in the deep south.

    • LauraHofman profile image

      Laura Hofman 4 years ago from Naperville, IL

      Interesting lens on a fascinating insect! We used to live in an older area in the western suburbs of Chicago with mature trees and I'll never forget how many we had in our yard in 1990 (thousands) or the deafening sound.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      They appeared in Chicago when I was a child. The noise is amazing.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image
      Author

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @lionmom100: Aren't they amazing. They are out now in the East... not sure exactly where, because they vary in their numbers. But you may get to see them this year if you live in the Eastern part of the US.

    • profile image

      lionmom100 4 years ago

      I had a chance to see cicadas once when I was a girl. I will never forget that they swarmed all over the trees many deep. It was so fascinating to see. We played with a few before turning them loose.

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 4 years ago

      lol on the chocolate covered cicadas...great thorough page!

    • lgOlson profile image

      L. Olson 4 years ago from Northern Arizona

      We have them EVERY year here in my area of Northern Arizona. They make enjoying outdoors impossible, they are so loud.