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.


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

Keeping cicadas for a short period of time

Filed under: FAQs — Dan @ 12:44 pm

We previously discussed raising cicadas from egg to adult. How about keeping adult cicadas for an hour, a day or more?

If you plan on keeping cicadas for a few hours, many containers will do. Just keep them in the shade, make sure the container is ventilated (has holes so air can flow in and out), and add a moist paper towel for a source of water & moisture.

I prefer to use Butterly Pavilions, which are small, expandable, portable enclosures. You can reuse them for other insects once the cicadas have gone.

Any Longer than a few hours, and you should make sure the cicadas have a source of fluids — the best source is a tree branch.

Temporary Cicada Enclosure

Cicada researcher & enthusiast Elias Bonaros shared his secrets for keeping adult cicadas alive. His record is 28 days for a Neotibicen auletes.

I usually used oak branches for above two species. I placed them into a butterfly pavilion. I used a small spring water bottle into the enclosure and placed the end of the branch into it. Be sure to place some paper towel or cotton in the open spaces at the mouth of the bottle because I had some specimens walk into the bottle and drown! Our beloved cicadas are not too bright.

I have never tried the sapling although that would seem the best as the tree can generate its own xylem pressure.

I change the branch every day vs every other day. Every third day is not good.

Takes a lot of work.

Another idea is to surround a branch of a live tree with netting, and place them in that — the same type of netting you would use to keep them off a branch will keep them on it.

The advantage of a Butterfly Pavilion is you can keep the cicada inside your home or lab.

May 18, 2016

Is it possible to raise cicadas?

Filed under: FAQs,Life Cycle — Dan @ 7:19 am

Is it possible to raise cicadas? It is, but it requires patience and commitment.

Potted Plants

The master of raising cicadas is a Japanese amateur cicada biologist named Shougo Murayama. Shougo has raised more than 1,000 cicadas of six or more species from eggs to adults in his backyard by growing them in see-through pots in clay soil with Aloe or Yucca plants. You can visit his website for more information (tip: use Firefox for better display of the text & then cut and paste it into Google translate). According to Shougo Murayama’s website, the cicadas he raised had 2 to 5 year life cycles.

David Logan of New Zealand successfully raised Kikihia ocharina cicadas from egg to adult. The details of this study can be found in the article Nymphal development and lifecycle length of Kikihia ocharina from 2006. It is important to note that K. ocharina have a short 3 year lifespan, and Logan raised the nymphs in pots with live plants. Logan’s study includes a section about care of the cicada’s egg before they hatch; hatching can take months, so this part is important. Logan placed the twig with eggs in a vial which he blocked with a moist material.

Logan conducted another study in 2014, this time with Amphipsalta zelandica (Boisduval), proving his methods work.

Richard Karban raised 15-year-old Magicicada nymphs to adulthood using peach trees as hosts for his study of how periodical cicadas keep track of time. This is not quite the same thing as raising cicadas from eggs, but it shows they can be raised outside of their natural habitat. Karban observed a high rate of mortality from the difficult process of transferring cicadas to new roots.

Most people who visit this website (Cicada Mania) are looking for American periodical cicada (Magicicada) information. Raising Magicicada would be quite a commitment. You’ll need an environment that mimics the Magicicada’s natural habitat, including the right soil & host plans, and you’ll need to maintain for at least 13 years (for the 13 year species, 17 years for the 17).

If you’re serious and live in the United States, a cicada with a short lifecycle like Diceroprocta apache will require less of a commitment.

Should you decide to raise cicadas, be sure to read the resources mentioned in this article, and consider the following tips:

  1. Expect 95% of the cicadas to die
  2. Care of the eggs is critical
  3. Use host plants and soil preferred by the species
  4. Use a species that has a short life cycle
  5. Use see-through pots so you can see the cicadas as they develop

I might consider doing this experiment myself, but I would definitely choose a species with a short life-span. I might place some grasses in the pot, in addition to a larger host plant, to give 1st instar nymphs more tiny roots to choose from. I have a (perhaps irrational) fear of a house guest dumping a cup off coffee into my cicada host plant and killing the entire experiment.

Thanks to Chris Simon of The Simon Lab at UConn for pointing me to many of these references.


Logan, DP. 2006. Nymphal development and lifecycle length of Kikihia ocharina (Walker)(Homopetera:Cicadidae). The Weta, 31:12-22.

Logan, DP, Rowe CA, Maher BJ. 2014. Life history of chorus cicada, an endemic pest of Kiwifruit (Homopetera:Cicadidae). New Zealand Entomologist. 37:2:96-102.

Karban, R, Black CA, Weinbaum SA. 2000. How 17-year cicadas keep track of time. Ecology Letters. 3: 253-256.

March 2, 2016

What do cicadas symbolize?

Filed under: FAQs — Dan @ 4:34 am

You might ask, what do cicadas symbolize? What are cicadas a metaphor for?


Cicadas, for many, represent personal change, renewal, rebirth, and transformation.

Unlike a butterfly, moth or other insect that undergoes complete metamorphosis, cicadas have no pupal state. They transform from one fully-functioning state (instar) to another — one viable form, in a small amount of time, changing to another. The cicada’s transformation is closer to that of a human beings. If a person wants or needs to make a change in their life, they don’t enclose themselves in a pod and emerge the next spring (I suppose some might) — more likely they remain in their human form as they change.

A lot of people use cicadas to symbolize their own personal transformation, in art, song, poetry or even a tattoo. The cicada inherently symbolizes what they were (nymph) and all the glory of what they have become (adult form).

Watch some cicada transformations:

September 26, 2015

What is the root of the word Cicada?

Filed under: FAQs — Dan @ 11:58 pm

The Latin root of the word cicada, is cicada!

Looking back a bit farther, the Sanskrit word for cicada is चिश्चिर, which is pronounced cizcira. Not too big a leap from cizcira to cicada.

There are other similar Sanskrit and Latin words, for instance, 17 in Sanskrit is saptadaz, while 17 in Latin is septendecim. Sapta/septen, daz/decim — you can see the similarities.

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