Cicada Mania

The Cicada Mania Blog: News, Findings, and Discoveries About Cicadas.

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November 20, 2014

The excavation skills of cicadas

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy,Magicicada,Roy Troutman — by @ 8:01 am

Cicadas spend most of their lives, as nymphs, underground. The large forelegs of cicada nymphs are adapted to digging through soil.

cicada foreleg
Image from The Periodical Cicada: An Account of Cicada Septendecim, Its Natural Enemies and the Means of Preventing Its Injury by C.L. Marlatt. 1898.

These videos demonstrate Magicicada nymphs digging through soil.

Magicicada nymph excavating tunnel by Roy

This magicicada nymph is excavating a make shift tunnel sandwiched between two pieces of plexiglass.:

Magicicada nymph excavating tunnel from Roy Troutman.

Magicicada nymph emerging from burrow by Roy

Magicicada nymph emerging from burrow from Roy Troutman.

White eyed magicicada by Roy Troutman

Here is a video of a rare white eyed magicicada. This is from a gene mutation that strepps the color from the cicadas eyes & also wings to some extent.

White eyed magicicada from Roy Troutman.

A Tibicen cicada breathing

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy,Roy Troutman,Tibicen,Video — by @ 5:31 am

Cicadas breathe through apertures along the side of their body called spiracles. This video of a Tibicen by Roy Troutman shows the opening and closing of a spiracle.

Adult Cicada breathing from Roy Troutman on Vimeo.

October 5, 2014

Cicada Endosymbionts – Beneficial Bacteria in their Bellies

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy,Tettigades — by @ 10:41 am

xylem soda

Most people know how termites rely on microbes in their gut to break down the wood they consume into nutrients their insect bodies can use. Even human beings benefit from bacteria to help digest certain carbohydrates, fight pathogens and produce certain vitamins (like K and B12).

Cicadas also benefit from microbial endosymbionts. Cicadas, for most of their lives, consume a diet of xylem sap, drawn from the roots of trees. There are two types of sap: xylem and phloem. Phloem is the delicious, sugary one — in Maples, it’s Maple Syrup. Xylem is the “Diet” version of that. Thankfully cicadas have bacteria in their gut that process the xylem sap into nutrients cicadas can actually use.

Recently it was discovered that one such bacteria (Hodgkinia) has become two distinct bacteria in some cicadas belonging to the genus Tettigades. This discovery was documented in the paper Sympatric Speciation in a Bacterial Endosymbiont Results in Two Genomes with the Functionality of One by James T. Van Leuven, Russell C. Meister, Chris Simon, John P. McCutcheon (link http://www.cell.com/cell/abstract/S0092-8674(14)01037-X).

Division of Labor What’s interesting is the Hodgkinia bacteria became two distinct species for no particular discernible reason (nonadaptive evolution). Separate, either of the species would be useless to the cicada because they produce an incomplete set of nutrients, but together they produce the compete set of nutrients. Two function as one, that once was just one. Ed Yong does a thorough job of explaining this on National Geographic. According to Yong’s article McCutcheon thinks they know how it happened (explained in the article and paper). Why it happened is another matter — of course how and why might be the same thing deep in the soggy bowels of a cicada.

Chris Simon, let me know that she is working on a paper that will discuss bacteria found in Magicicada. It will be interesting to learn what they find in the bellies of those long-living cicadas.


What is the loudest cicada?

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy,FAQs — by @ 7:58 am

“What is the loudest cicada” or “what is the loudest insect”, you might ask.

A recent BBC article says researcher John Petti as found the answer: Brevisana brevis, an African cicada, reaches 106.7 decibels — with the loudest North American cicada, Tibicen pronotalis walkeri at 105.9 decibels. Their sound was measured at a distance of 50cm (approximately 20 inches). Specifics about the equipment used and calibration of said equipment is not mentioned.

The article does introduce room for skepticism and debate, by noting that other species come very close (Diceroprocta apache), that the Tibicen pronotalis walkeri alarm call reaches 108.9 decibels, and a North American study that suggests decibels are correlated to body mass (and Brevisana brevis is not the most massive cicada).

According to the book Australian Cicadas by M.S. Moulds (New South Wales University Press, 1990) Cyclochila australasiae and Thopha saccata reach nearly 120db at close range. The “at close range” might be the key difference in measuring the sound, as Petti measured at a distance of 50cm.

I’ve measured Magicicada (the American periodical cicadas) calling around 110db at the “what if it sang next to my ear” distance, which of course, is not 50cm away. Magicicada chorus at around 80db:

Some people want to know how loud a cicada can get just because it is a cool fact to know, but others are concerned about noise-induced hearing loss (about which, I am not an expert). Both decibels and prolonged exposure seem to matter. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders page on Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, prolonged exposure to sounds over 85db can cause hearing loss (just above the chorus of a Magicicada). The WebMD harmful noise levels page has chainsaws and leaf blowers in the range of the loudest cicadas. Lessons learned: 1) Make sure you wear hearing protection if you plan on blowing leaves, or searching for the loudest cicada, and 2) Do not complain about the cicadas in your yard — complain about your neighbors and their leaf blowers.

There are over 3500 types of cicadas in the world, and for now Brevisana brevisis the king of the insect noisemakers.

More information on Petti’s study can be found here.

May 24, 2014

Cicada Myths

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy,Periodical — by @ 12:49 pm

Busting Cicada Myths

There are many myths (widely held but false beliefs or ideas) about cicadas. Time to bust some cicada myths.

Myth 1: Cicadas are sleeping when they are underground.

There’s a popular Twitter and Tumblr meme that (mis)states the following “if cicadas can sleep for 17 years and then wake up only to scream and reproduce so can i”. The actual tweet doesn’t say “reproduce”, but I want to keep it clean.

American periodical cicadas aren’t sleeping the entire 17 years they’re underground. Much of the time they’re digging tunnels and building feeding cells, tapping into roots and feeding, vying with other cicadas for space along a crowded root system, growing (they experience four phases or instars while underground), avoiding unfavorable conditions like flooding, and possibly actively avoiding predators like moles and voles. Yes, cicadas can sleep — or at least the insect version of sleep called torpor — but they are definitely not asleep for 17 years.

That said cicadas do spend their time screaming (the males) and procreating once above ground.

Myth 2: All cicadas have a 17 year life cycle.

This is false. Only three species, out of the thousands of cicada species in the world, have a 17 year life cycle: Magicicada septendecim, Magicicada cassini, and Magicicada septendecula.

Myth 3: All cicadas have periodical life cycles and synchronized emergences.

This is false. Only seven species in the United States (belonging to the genus Magicicada), and a few species in Asia (belonging to the genus Chremistica 1) have been confirmed to have periodical life cycles and synchronized emergences.

All other species of cicadas emerge annually, although in some years they are more plentiful than in others.

Myth 4: All cicadas live a prime number of years.

Many cicadas live a prime number of years, but some do not. Chremistica ribhoi, the World Cup cicada, has four year life cycle.

Myth 5: A long, periodical, prime number life cycle has allowed American periodical cicadas to avoid gaining a predator.

American periodical cicadas have avoided gaining an animal predator that specifically predates them, but they haven’t avoided a fungus. Massospora cicadina is a fungal parasite of Magicicada cicadas.

Male Magicicada septendecim infected with Massospora cicadina fungus

That said, just about any animal will eat an American periodical cicada, so they definitely get eaten. They get eaten a lot.

Myth 6: Cicadas make their well-know sound by stridulation, like crickets, grasshoppers & katydids.

It is true that some cicadas can make noise by stridulation, making sound by rubbing body parts.

However, and this is a huge however, the sound cicadas are known for is made by organs found in male cicadas called tymbals. Tymbals are a pair of ribbed membranes, that produce the cicada’s sound when they are flexed in and out by muscles. The mechanism is like the popping sound made when the plastic of a soda pop bottle is flexed in and out.

Tymbal

Cicadas can also make sound by flicking or clapping their wings.

Myth 7: Cicadas eat vegetation.

This is false. Cicadas lack the mouth parts to chew and swallow vegetable matter. Your tomatoes are safe around cicadas. Rather than eating solid food, cicadas ingest xylem, which is a type of tree sap that cicadas drink through their straw-like mouthparts.

Myth 8: American periodical cicadas are locusts.

Cicadas are not locusts. Locusts are a form of grasshopper. People confuse cicadas with locusts because both aggregate in massive numbers.

This is an image of a locust:
Locust

Characteristic Locust Cicada
Order Orthoptera Hemiptera
Hind Legs Giant hind legs for jumping Hind legs about the same size as other legs; great for climbing and perching.
What they eat Everything green they can find to eat Xylem sap
They’re in your town All the plants in your town have been stripped bare Cool UFO movie soundtrack sounds during the day

9) If you see a W appear in a cicada’s wings it means there will be a war. If you see a P, there will be peace.

This is the most mythical of cicada myths and has no basis in fact. That said, here’s the W:

W in cicada wing

1 Hajong, S.R. 2013. Mass emergence of a cicada (homoptera: cicadidae) and its capture methods and consumption by villagers in ri-bhoi district of Meghalaya. Department of Zoology, North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong – 793 022, Meghalaya, India.

April 27, 2014

Cicada anatomy photo by Santisuk Vibul. Dundubia sp.


Cicada anatomy photo by Santisuk Vibul. Dundubia sp.

This photo points out the Tymbal (the organ that makes the cicada’s signature sound), the Tympanum (their hearing organ), the Operculum (which covers the Tympanum), and its wings.

More cicada photos by Santisuk Vibul.

October 12, 2013

A third way cicadas make sounds

Cicadas are well known for the songs male cicadas make with their their tymbals, which are drum-like organs found in their abdomens.

Some female cicadas will also flick their wings to get the males attention. Watch this video where a male Magicicada is convinced that the snapping of fingers is a wing flick. Note: Magicicada males will also flick their wings once they become infected with the Massospora cicadina fungus (which removes their sex organs).

There is a third way some cicadas can make sounds. This method of creating a sound is unique to the Australian species Cyclochila australasiae (aka the Green Grocer and Masked Devil). These cicadas have stridulatory ridges on their pronotal collars (the collar shaped structure at the back of their head), and a stridulatory scraper on their fore wing.

From M. S. MOULDS, 2012, A review of the genera of Australian cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadoidea). Magnolia Press Auckland, New Zealand. p84:

Cyclochila is unique among the Cicadoidea in possessing a stridulatory file on the underside of the lateral angles of the pronotal collar that interacts with a scraper on the fore wing base (Fig. 132). Rubbed together these produce low audible sound in hand-held specimens (K. Hill, pers. comm.), the purpose of which is for sexual com- munication at close quarters (J. Kentwell and B. Fryz, pers. comm.)

Here is a photo of these structures”

Cyclochila australasiae stridulatory structures

The location of these structures is right about where the blue pin is in this photo:
Collar

Update:

Tim McNary of the Bibliography of the Cicadoidea website, let us know that Clidophleps cicadas are also able to create should using a stridulatory structure. Clidophleps is a genus of cicada that can be found in California, Nevada, Arizona, and I assume adjacent parts of Mexico. Clidophleps differs from Cyclochila in that the stridulatory structure is on its mesonotum, and not its pronotal collar.

Photo courtesy of Tim McNary:
stridatory file

March 28, 2013

Videos of cicadas moulting

Filed under: Skins,Video — by @ 6:57 pm

When a cicada sheds its nymphal skin, revealing its adult form, we call it ecdysis. You probably call it moulting, and that’s just fine.

Here are a bunch of videos of cicadas moulting:

Here is a Magicicada nymph molting (the 17-year variety) by Roy Troutman:

Magicicada nymph molting from Roy Troutman.

Annual cicada molting to an adult by Roy:

Annual cicada molting to an adult from Roy Troutman.

Here is Tibicen moulting by blackpawphoto (YouTube Link):

Here is a video of a Japanese cicada, the Terpnosia nigricosta, moulting by AntoSan09 (YouTube Link):

January 5, 2013

These are Not Cicada Insects!

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy — by @ 4:07 am

I made this page for two reasons: 1) to point out insects and other animals that people commonly confuse with cicadas, and 2) list people, places and things named "cicada" that clearly are not cicadas.

By the way, if you’re looking for places to Identify insects that are not cicadas, try Bug Guide and What’s that Bug.

Order Orthoptera (Grasshoppers, Crickets, Katydids)

Grasshoppers, Crickets and Katydids are often confused with cicadas because they are relatively large, singing insects. There are many differences between cicadas and Orthopterans, but the easiest way to tell them apart is Orthopterans have huge hind legs.

The Songs of Insects has song samples of grasshoppers, katydids, crickets and cicadas — listen and compare.

Learn more about insects belonging to the Order Orthoptera.

Grasshoppers / Locusts

True locusts are grasshoppers and definitely not cicadas.

Locust:

Locust

17-year cicada:

17-year cicada

People call periodical Magicicada cicadas "locusts" because they emerge in massive numbers like true locusts. Unlike a true locusts — which will chew, eat and destroy virtually all vegetation they come across — most cicadas only cause damage to weaker tree branches when they lay their eggs. When true locusts come to town, your family might starve and die (because the locusts ate all your food). When cicadas come to town, your maple tree gets a few branches of brown leaves. Big difference.

Learn more about Grasshoppers.

Katydids

Katydids get confused with cicadas for both the way they look and for the sounds they make. Some key differences: katydids usually have wings that look like green leaves, long antennae, and large hind legs for jumping. Most of the time you year an insect at night, it’s either a cricket or katydid.

Amblycorypha oblongifolia,-side_2012-07-26-17.10.53-ZS-PMax
Photo by USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory.

Learn more about Katydids.

Crickets

Crickets don’t look like cicadas, but they do make sounds. Most of the time you year an insect at night, it’s either a cricket or katydid.

Velarifictorus micado,-side_2012-07-09-18.36.02-ZS-PMax
Photo by USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory.

Learn more about crickets.

Sphinx Moths

Sphinx Moths are confused for cicadas because, at a glance, they have a similar shape. Learn more about Sphinx moths.

Hawk or Sphinx Moth
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region

Other members of the Suborder Auchenorrhyncha

Planthoppers (Infraorder Fulgoromorpha), Froghoppers (Infraorder Cicadomorpha > Superfamily Cercopoidea), and Cicadelloidea (Infraorder Cicadomorpha > Superfamily Membracoidea ) are often mistaken for cicadas (Infraorder Cicadomorpha > Superfamily Cicadoidea) because they share the same Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order and Suborder — and they look a lot a like. The big difference is cicadas sing, while other members of Auchenorrhyncha do not sing.

Leafhopper, U, top, Patuxant, MD_2012-10-09-11.40.20 ZS PMax
Plant-Hopper,-side_2012-07-06-19.25.23-ZS-PMax
Photos by USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory.

Learn more about the other members of the Suborder Auchenorrhyncha.

Frogs

Frog calls are often mistaken for cicada song, particularly at night.

Birds

Bird calls can be mistaken for cicada song. Some birds that can mimic sounds, such as Lyrebirds, Mockingbirds, and Psittaciformes (Parrots) could conceivably mimic cicada sounds.

The HORSE

No one would confuse a horse with a cicada (visually and audibly speaking), but there was a famous horse named cicada.

People, Places and Things Named Cicada

These are people (in the form of Bands), places and things named cicada. They often show up in Flickr, Twitter, Ebay or Amazon, when I’m searching for cicada insects. It is awesome that people name stuff after cicadas (but it can be annoying when you’re searching for cicada insects, and other stuff shows up).

Bands

There are many bands with "cicada" in their name. These show up a lot in ebay and twitter. Here is a partial list:

There are many albums named Cicada as well, such as Cicada by Cat Scientist. That one comes up a lot in ebay.

Places

These places show up in twitter, and when I search for cicada photos on Flickr.

Things

Here’s a list of other things that often show up in ebay, twitter and amazon.

  • BattleTech BattleMech Cicada is a toy.
  • Cicada is a company that makes dental equipment.
  • Cicada Magazine is a magazine for children.
  • The Cicada is a multi tool.
  • PageFlip Cicada is a wireless Bluetooth pedal designed to meet the needs of musicians and people with disabilities who struggle with the challenge and inconvenience of page turning.


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