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November 20, 2014

A Tibicen cicada breathing

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy,Roy Troutman,Tibicen,Video — Dan @ 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

What is the loudest cicada?

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

“What is the loudest cicada”?

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, Megatibicen 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.
Double Drummer (Thopha saccata)
Double Drummer (Thopha saccata), a cicada found in Australia, can reach 120db at close range. Photo by Kevin Lee.

Personally, I’ve observed Magicicada cassini choruses achieve between 85 & 86 decibels (link to video), and M. cassini responding to fingersnaps (mimics female wing flicks) at as high as 116 decibels (link to video) 35s in). The 116 decibels level was recorded with the insect standing on the microphone of my Extech 407730. Magicicada choruses have been documented to reach 100 decibels

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.

Male cicadas, in case you were wondering, use their opercula (flaps on their abdomen) to cover their tympana (the cicadas hearing organs) when they sing, so they don’t damage their own hearing. Cicadas — male and female — listen with their tympana.

May 24, 2014

Cicada Myths

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy,Periodical — Dan @ 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 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.

Filed under: Cicada Anatomy,Dundubia,Santisuk Vibul,Thailand — Dan @ 8:56 pm


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

Filed under: Australia,Cicada Anatomy,Cyclochila,Sounds,Video — Dan @ 8:06 am

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

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