Cicada Mania

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May 21, 2016

Why do some cicadas have shriveled up or damaged wings?

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy,FAQs — Dan @ 5:00 pm

You might notice that some cicadas have shriveled-up or otherwise damaged wings. Most of the time, wings become damaged during the molting process (ecdysis), specifically while their wings harden (sclerotize). Their wings, and body, are most vulnerable when they are still soft.

Hang Time

Some reasons why a cicadas’s wings might not get the chance to inflate and harden:

  • If a cicada molts and its wings are not able to hang downward they won’t inflate with fluids and form properly.
  • Cicadas often trample each other in the rush to find a place on a tree to molt.
  • Harsh weather, like wind and rain, knock them to the ground or bend their wings when they’re soft.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Physical weakness or defects.
  • Fungi infection.
  • Predator attacks.


Stuck

Just 10 Magicicada (American periodical cicadas) generations ago, the U.S. was mostly forest. Back then it was easy to find a vertical surface to molt on, or a plant stem to hang from. Today most forests have been replaced with agriculture, buildings, lawns, roads, sidewalks, parking lots, etcetera — so it has become increasingly difficult for periodical cicadas to find a good place to hang.

Magicicada can afford to lose a large number of their population due to wing malformations and other critical defects, because there are simply so many of them — this loss falls in line with their predator satiation strategy.

However, if Magicicada lose too much habitat, they will go extinct (brood XI went extinct about 60 years ago). Lawns, roads, sidewalks, and other features of our human habitat create surfaces that are insalubrious for cicada molting.


In the video below, you will see a cicada molting. Note that its wings are able to hang downward and inflate to form properly shaped wings. If the cicada tried to molt on a vertical surface, the odds are its wings would be crumpled.


In the image below, there is a Neotibicen tibicen (not a periodical cicada) that sclerotized (hardened) before completely shedding its nymphal skin.

Male Tibicen tibicen (crippled)
Although adorable, this Neotibicen will never sing or fly.

May 19, 2016

The anatomy of a freshly molted cicada

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy,Magicicada,Video — Dan @ 6:19 pm

This video points some of the anatomical features of a freshly molted Magicicada, like it’s tarsal claws, rostrum, clypeus, stylets, and spiracles.

The video was made with Camtasia and Pixelmator — nothing fancy; just a quick video for people experiencing molting cicadas for the first time.

July 5, 2015

Did Someone Offer a Reward for White or Blue-eyed Cicadas?

Filed under: Eye Color,FAQs,Magicicada,Roy Troutman — Dan @ 7:58 am

Is it true that someone has offered a reward for a white or blue-eyed Magicicada cicadas?

This was false and an urban legend until in 2008 when Roy Troutman began to offer rewards for living blue-eyed cicadas for scientific research. All cicadas were released, unharmed.

Important: Roy is no longer offering the reward as he has obtained the cicadas needed for his research. So, don’t bug him, unless you want to tell him that his photos and video are awesome.

White or Blue-eyed Magicicadas cicadas are extremely rare, so finding them can be difficult. I usually find one per emergence, and that is after looking at thousands of cicadas.

Speaking of Roy and White-eyed cicadas, here is a video Roy took of a White-eyed cicada:

And here’s a white and orange-eyed cicada taken by Roy:

Upclose on Marble eyed 17 year cicada

June 28, 2015

What do Cicadas Eat?

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy,FAQs — Dan @ 9:52 am

Cicadas “eat” something called xylem (sap), which is a watery tree fluid containing amino acids and minerals. Cicadas drink rather than eat.

People probably ask “what do cicadas eat” because they are afraid that cicadas will eat their flowers and garden fruits and vegetables. Cicadas lack mouth parts that can chew and swallow vegetation. Your tomatoes and marigolds are safe.

How does a cicada drink xylem? The cicada’s mouth parts (aka rostrum or beak) are in the shape of a straw, which can pierce rootlets, roots and branches.

beak

  • The labium form the outside of the beak of the cicada; inside the labium is the stylet which is comprised of the mandibles and maxillae, which the cicada uses to pierce plants and drink their sap.
  • The labrum connects the labium to the rostrum…
  • The rostrum, or what people call the “nose” of the cicada, contains enourmous pumping muscles (1) that suck the xylem up into the cicada.
  • The cicadas’s polymerized, viscous saliva plugs up any holes their mouth parts create (2), so a root will not continue to leak xylem when the cicada moves on to a new root. They put the cork back in the wine bottle, so to speak.

Cicadas are able to derive nutrition from the xylem thanks to bacterial endosymbionts that live in the cicada’s gut.

Cicada are known for drinking xylem from tree roots (as nymphs) and branches & twigs (as adults), however, when they are small they must rely on grasses, and possibly other small plants for nourishment.

  • Young cicada nymphs are smaller than a grain of rice when they first begin feeding so the tiny roots of grasses are the best fit for their small beaks.
  • Grass roots are likely the first roots a young cicada nymph will encounter, as they are close to the surface.
  • Deciduous trees shed their rootlets in winter months, but grasses do not (2). This is not an issue in tropical regions.

Perhaps the reason why periodical cicadas are “attracted to woodland edges and exposed aspects, especially for chorusing and ovipositing” (1) is their offspring will be more likely to find grass roots in those areas. Young nymphs would be unlikely to find suitable tiny roots deep in a shady forrest.

Once the cicada nymph is larger, they can burrow to larger and more permanent tree roots, and feed from there.

It is interesting to note that not all cicadas feed on trees. Some feed on sugarcane, which is a giant grass (we’re back to the grasses again). The Brown sugarcane cicada (Cicadetta crucifera) and Yellow sugarcane cicada, (Parnkalla muelleri) of Australia feed on the sugarcane plants and cause damage to plants.

Read more:

Do cicadas bite or sting.

Sources:

  • 1 The Ecology, Behavior, And Evolution Of Periodical Cicadas, Kathy S. Williams and Chris Simon, Annu.Rev. Entomol. 1995. 40:269-95
  • 2 Xylm Feeding by Periodical Cicada Nymphs on Pine and Grass Roots, With Novel Suggestions for Pest Control in Conifer Plantations and Orchards, Monte Lloyd and Joann White, OHIO J. SCI. 87 (3): 50-54, 1987

Do cicadas pee?

Filed under: Chremistica,Cicada Anatomy,FAQs,Magicicada — Dan @ 8:11 am

More than a few people have asked Cicada Mania: “do cicadas pee”? Absolutely, cicadas do pee. There are a couple of reasons why:

  • They pee to eliminate excess fluids taken in while drinking xylem (1).
  • They pee to eliminate non-essential amino acids (2).
  • Underground, they could use excess fluid to help moisten and remold their tunnels & cells (2).
  • They might, in some cases, even use it to keep ants from attacking… (3)

You may have been under a cicada-filled tree on a sunny day and felt a sprinkle or two. Don’t worry, it is just watery tree sap (xylem) passed through a cicada.

A detailed explanation of the experience courtesy of Les Daniels:

I’ve experienced this several times where I was on the receiving end of this artificial rain. When many cicadas congregate on warm days, they feed on the tree fluids and often urinate ‘piss’ while doing so. This bug urine is called ‘honey dew.’ The little buggers have pelted me several times while I was observing a little ‘too’ close. It isn’t uncommon. Lastly, the ‘honey dew’ does not stain, or stink. In fact, it feels like rain drops.

Some cicadas seem to pee more than others, for instance the Chremistica umbrosa of South-East Asia. If you walk under an umbrosa, you will need an umbrella! (The Latin root of both words, umbr means shade). Here is a video of Chremistica umbrosa:

Sources:

1 Records Of The Cicada, Chremistica Umbrosa (Distant, 1904) In Singapore, With Accounts Of Its Mass Emergence (Homoptera: Cicadidae: Cicadinae), Tzi Ming Leong, Aminurashid and Benjamin P. Y-H. Lee, NATURE IN SINGAPORE 2011 4: 163–175, 15 June 2011

2 The Ecology, Behavior, And Evolution Of Periodical Cicadas, Kathy S. Williams and Chris Simon, Annu.Rev. Entomol. 1995. 40:269-95

3 The documentary The Queen of Trees by Deeble & Stone features a segment about Fig Cicadas, that expel pee, sweet with the phloem sap of the fig tree, which is enjoyed by ants and monkeys, which has the side benefit of keeping those predators and nuisances away.

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