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Cicada FAQs

Skip to FAQs specifically about Magicicada Periodical Cicadas.

Cicada FAQs about all cicadas in general

These answers are about all cicadas, regardless of species and location.

Is there such thing as an albino cicada?

No. When many types of cicadas first emerge from their nymphal skin they are white in color. Gradually, their bodies become a darker color. Some take longer than others to change. Some die before the change can occur, and their corpses remain white.

This is a photo of a teneral (soft) Magicicada:
Brood XIV Stragglers - Emerging after 21 years
Its skin will eventually turn black and orange.

The are some cicadas, like the Tibicen pruinosus fulvus Beamer, 1924, that retain their lighter, teneral colors, but they are not albinos. Note: fulvus means yellow.


How can I tell a male from a female?

1) Only males sing. If the cicada is singing, it is a male.

2) Look at their abdomen. If it comes to a point and has an ovipositor, it is a female.

A detail of the genitals of two species of Magicicada

Why do some cicadas have shriveled up or otherwise damaged wings?

There are a number of possibilities including:

  • Harsh weather, like wind and rain.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Damage caused during the molting process. Cicadas often trample each other in the rush to find a place on a tree to molt.
  • Fungi infection.

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

What purpose do cicadas serve?

Cicadas serve a number of purposes.

  • Cicadas aid their host trees by aerating the soil when they emerge, as well as trimming weaker branches when they lay their eggs.
  • Cicadas also form a vital link in the food chain between the sun, trees and literally hundreds of carnivores and omnivores, including: squirrels, birds, toads, raccoons, possums, other insects, people, and even fungi!

You can see the letters W and P in the wings of some cicadas. W means there will be a War, and P means there will be Peace.

It is very true that you can see the shapes of letters in a cicadas wings, but consider the part about War or Peace to be an "old wives tale" or "urban legend".

If you're worried about war, consider that there is a war going on somewhere in the world at all times, and it is not the cicadas' fault.

W in cicada wing

Do cicadas pee, and if so, why?

Short Answer: Yes.
A detailed explanation 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."

How do you pronounce Cicada?

According to the dictionary: "si-kah-da" or "si-kay-da". Either way is good.

Around New York and New Jersey folks pronounce it "si-kah-da". William T. Davis pronounced it "si-kah-da". Davis was a naturalist and entomologist located in Staten Island, NY, active in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. Davis collected the largest collection of cicadas in the United States. The collection is currently housed at the Staten Island Museum.

How come I have cicadas in my neighborhood, but the Are they coming to your town? page indicates that I shouldn't?

That's because the Are they coming to your town? page only applies to Magicicada/Periodical/17&13 year cicadas which are a specific Genus of cicada. You've found another type of cicada, probably a Tibicen, Diceroprocta, or Okanagana (in the U.S.A.).

Try our USA and Canada Cicada Search or our Genus and Species page for other types of cicadas.

Are cicadas locusts?

NO! True locusts belong to the same family of insects as grasshoppers, in fact they look just like a grasshopper, in fact they are grasshoppers. The confusion stems from the fact that both Locusts and Magicicada both gather in extremely large numbers. Locusts are far more destructive, destroying all plant life in their path. Cicadas just fly around trees and kill a few weakling branches here and there.

Locust
This is a locust. Note the huge hind legs, long antennae, chewing mouthparts, and the fact that all the leaves in your neighborhood are completely gone. Because they ate them all.

Are cicadas katydids?

NO, cicadas are not katydids. These are katydids.

Are cicadas June Bugs?

NO, cicadas are not June Bugs. Many people confuse June Bug larvae for cicada larvae.

See our article These are Not Cicada Insects for more insects mistaken for cicadas.

Will the cicadas kill my trees, shrubs and flowers?

Possibly. Especially if your plant is pathetic and weak. Cicadas don't kill flowers and shouldn't damage shrubs, but they can do damage to young, wimpy trees like ornamentals.

Cicadas don't cause damage to trees by chewing leaves like other insects to. Instead the damage is caused because they lay their eggs in grooves in the branches of trees. Cicadas are technically parasites of the trees, and they need the trees to survive throughout their entire life cycle, so killing trees is not in the cicadas best interest.

The weakest limbs of a tree are often temporarily damaged or killed off, the result of which is called flagging, as the leaves of the branch will turn brown and look like a flag. They are doing the trees a favor by pruning their weakest branches.

Young trees, ornamental trees and fruit trees will be more prone to damage as they are typically smaller and weaker than older native hardwood trees. I recommend placing netting around these trees and picking the cicadas off by hand, if you're concerned. Spraying them off the trees with a hose seems to work as well. I don't recommend filling a bucket with cicadas and dumping them in your neighbors yard, as they can fly back to your yard, and your neighbor will become enraged.

Certain cicada species in Australia will damage sugar cane and grape vines, but not in North America.

Grooves made by a cicada:

grooves

An image of Flagging caused by cicadas:

Periodical Cicada Flagging 3

Do cicadas eat garden vegetables?

Unlike grasshoppers and caterpillars, cicadas lack mouthparts that can chew, so they can't eat leaves, fruits or vegetables.

How can I prevent cicadas from damaging my plants?

There are several solutions. 1) You can wrap netting, or insect exclusion screens, around small trees or individual tree limbs to keep the cicadas off them. You can get this netting from stores that sell landscaping supplies. 2) You can spray them off with a hose. 3) You can manually pick them off with your hand. 4) You can use insect barrier tape or a sticky solution like "Tanglefoot Pest Barrier". See Green Methods for more ideas.

We recommend that you don't bother with pesticides for a number of reasons. 1) New cicadas will continually fly onto your trees from neighbor's yards, making pesticides futile. 2) Your pets can become poisoned from ingesting too many treated cicadas. 3) Collateral damage -- you end up killing other insects like honey bees and butterflies.

Do cicadas bite or sting?

No. Cicadas aren't equipped to bite or sting. They do have prickly feet and a beak which can pinch or scratch. If they confuse you with a tree branch they might try to drink fluids from you or lay some eggs in you, which you would definitely feel, and might confuse with a sting or bite.

Read Do Cicadas Bite or Sting for more about this topic.

I dug up a white grub in my back yard. Is it a cicada?

Maybe. Just about every insect goes through a larval phase, and they pretty much all look alike to the novice. Unlike beetle larvae, cicada larvae or nymphs are not long-bodied like grubs. If it was sucking on a root, looks just like a nymph and is soft and white, then it's probably a cicada.

An example of a young cicada nymph unearthed from the ground. Note how its body is white, but it doesn't have the Cheetos/worm-like body of a beetle grub:
elias-magicicada-2nd-nymph-07

Are cicadas toxic or poisonous?

Cicadas are well known bioaccumulators of mercury. Mercury is toxic. Spraying them with pesticides, will make them toxic to other animals and pets.

Cicadas do not create their own poison, like wasps and bees.

Is it safe for my pets to eat cicadas?

In small numbers, they might be safe. Here are some reasons why they would not be safe:

  • Cicadas are well known bioaccumulators of mercury. Mercury is toxic.
  • Pets may choke on cicadas, or gorge themselves and become ill
  • Cicadas tainted with pesticide could kill your pets. Check to see if they vomit or choke.

Is it safe for my kids to eat cicadas?

For legal reasons (so you can't sue me when your kid turns blue after eating a pail full of these bugs) I won't say yes or no. Consider this:

  • Cicadas are well known bioaccumulators of mercury. Mercury is toxic.
  • Asian peoples have enjoyed eating cicadas for centuries, however, this tradition started before the Industrial Age, and the soil and air pollution that came with it.
  • Like pets, your children may choke on them or gorge themselves and become ill.
  • Please consult your child's doctor if you're concerned. Don't be ashamed to admit that your child ate insects.

Also read our article Are Cicadas Safe to Eat?

Once there were cicadas in my area, but now there are none. Why?

Pesticides, construction, extreme weather conditions and tree removal are all good reasons.

How do they make that noise?

Only the males make the songs cicadas are known for. They have membranes in their abdomen called tymbals that vibrate very quickly when pulled by tiny muscles, creating their amazing songs. Every species of cicada has a unique call.

Go to our Cicada Audio page to listen to cicada songs.

There are two other much quieter ways some cicadas make sound. 1) Both male and female (depending on the species) use wing flicks to produce sound. You can mimik the sound of a wing flick and lure some male cicadas like Magicicada cicadas. 2) Some cicadas also use stridulation to make sounds, like crickets do. 3) Platypedia sp. cicadas, common in the western U.S., lack timbal organs and communicate through crepitation.

What do cicadas eat?

Most cicadas subsist solely on the fluids of living trees. This fluid is called xylem. In early stages of their life, they will live off the fluids of small plants like grasses, but they move to tree root systems as they grow older. Adults live off both the fat stored in their bodies as well as fluids from trees. If you capture a cicada, giving the creature a broken branch to suck on won't nourish it. The best thing to do is place netting around a live branch of a small tree and place the cicada in that.

What is the life span of a cicada?

That depends on the Genus and species of the cicada. The Magicicada Genus of North America has a 17 or 13 year life cycle (the largest of any insect). Other Genera of cicadas have life cycles of a variety of years (never more than 17 and usually a primary number). The Tibicen or "dog day" cicada has a life cycle of only a couple of years and which is one of the reasons why we see them each year.

How many kinds of cicadas are there?

Over 170 species of cicadas live in North America alone. The two best known cicadas in North America are the Magicicada, AKA "the 17 year locust", and the Tibicen, AKA "the Dog Day cicada". There are over 3,500 varieties of cicadas found around the world (including all species, subspecies, and documented but unnamed types).

What eats the cicada? I have found a bee-like insect that I don't know the name of. But someone has told me that they eat cicada's? Do you happen to know the name?

The "Cicada Killer Wasp" -- yes, that's its real name!
BIOLOGY OF CICADA KILLER WASPS. Besides the Cicada Killer Wasp, just about anything else will eat them as well.

What is the Latin root word of cicada?

I've read two different claims: 1) cicada is derived from the Latin word for cicada, and 2) cicada is derived from the Latin word for slave.

"I have seen many living cicadas missing an abdomen. Why are they still alive?"

Most cicadas are missing abdomens because of fungal infections and predators. They keep on crawling because of the natural will to mate and survive -- off course they'll die soon and never breed because their sex organs are gone.

What eats them when they're underground?

When they're underground they're often eaten by moles and other furry insectivores, but enough of them escape the moles to survive.

Do cicadas stink?

Cicadas do stink, but only once they're dead and rotting, like most creatures. When you get a pile of dead, wet cicadas they can kick up a serious funk, like putrefying bacon. It's best to rake up their corpses ASAP, shovel them into a bucket or wheelbarrow, and then bury them, compost them, or use them for catfish or critter bait.

What is the life span of a non-Magicicada cicada?

It is thought that annual cicadas like Tibicens have 2 to 7 year life cycles. Unlike periodical cicadas, annual cicadas do not have synchronized, periodical emergences, so some emerge every year. Okanagana rimosa has a 9-year life span and may be protoperiodical.

Are there periodical cicadas other than Magicicadas?

There is a cicada in India called Chremistica that emerges in synch with the World Cup (that is known as the World Cup cicada). There may be others. Gaeana festiva emerge en masse and might be a periodical cicada according to Michel Boulard.

Can pets (dogs and cats) or other animals sense cicadas below ground?

Yes, animals can sense cicadas underground, especially when they are tunneling towards the surface. When cicadas dig they make enough sound that animals can hear them.

Do cicadas sing at night?

Cicadas only sing at night in the presence of artificial light, or during extreme heat or overcrowding. Otherwise, when you hear a creature singing at night it is most likely a katydid, cricket or a frog.

FAQs specifically about Magicicada Periodical Cicadas

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

This was false and an urban legend until in 2008 when Roy Troutman began to offer rewards for blue-eyed cicadas for scientific research. Roy is no longer offering the reward as he has obtained the cicadas needed for his research.

Why do they stay underground for 13 or 17 years?

There are a number of theories. Most likely they've developed this periodicity to avoid predators. The argument against that theory is that a fungus, Massospora cicadina, has evolved to attack periodical cicadas.

Climate events, such as the most recent Ice Age, are also believed to be a factor.

Read more about this topic in the blog post Cicadas and Prime Numbers and the paper by Prof. Douglas Galvao, Emergence of Prime Numbers as the Result of Evolutionary Strategy.

How come I don't have periodical cicadas in my area, but the the information on your website indicates that I should?

That's because the Are the Periodical Cicadas coming to your town? page indicates areas where Magicicada might emerge - in other words, there's a chance they'll emerge in your area, but it is not certain that they will. You won't find them in everybody's back yard. If you don't have many deciduous trees in your neighborhood, you probably won't find any. Pesticides, development (new homes, stores, roads, graveyards), extreme weather conditions and tree removal are also factors. There are no guarantees.

Read more about this topic in the blog post Where's the cicadas?

What are Broods?

There are 12 groups of Magicicadas with 17 year life cycles, and 3 groups of Magicicadas with 13 year life cycles. Each of these groups emerge in a specific series of years, rarely overlapping (17 & 13 year groups co-emerge every 221 years). Each of these groups emerge in the same geographic area their parents emerged. These groups, each assigned a specific Roman numeral, are called broods. Visit our Broods page which features a grid of the Brood names, their life span, when & where they'll emerge next and links to maps.

Read Understanding Broods Using Analogies for more insight.

How long does a Magicicada emergence last?

The emergence time for an entire Brood (which often covers many states) can last as long as 8 weeks. Locally, an emergence typically lasts 4-6 weeks from the time the first nymph crawls from the ground, until the last adult dies. Factors like weather can slow the progress of an emergence. Individual adults can live a few weeks, but they often don't get to live that long, as many are born crippled, they get infected with mold, they run out of energy, they get eaten, etc. People also ask how long they keep singing for -- males can continue to sing for a few weeks, but typically they die sooner than that -- either because they're eaten, or because they've exhausted their internal energy stores, mating, sining and flying around.

How many kinds of Magicicadas are there?

There are seven species of Magicicada. The 17 year varieties: M. septendecim, M. cassini, M. septendecula, and the 13 year varieties: M. neotredecim, M. tredecim, M. tredecassini and M. tredecula. Each species is slightly different in coloring, song or other attributes.

When do I get to see Magicicada cicadas?

You might hear them first. This depends on where you live, but here's a helpful chart to determine when they'll be appearing next. There are maps on the magicicada.org site.

Are there 7-year cicadas?

Maybe, but when people say 7-year cicadas, they probably mean 17 year cicadas. Magicicadas emerge in 17 or 13 year cycles. Some annual cicadas might have 7 year cycles, but they do not synchronize as a group.

What are stragglers?

Periodical cicadas often emerge 1 or 4 years early or late. When periodical cicadas don't emerge on schedule we call them stragglers.

People hear the word straggler and assume it means something that lags behind, but that is a laggard. Straggler simply means something that has deviated from an expected date/time.

Probability of Straggling. Image courtesy of Chris Simon.
This image indicates the probability of Magicicada straggler emergence. Courtesy of Chris Simon.

Why are there so many periodical cicadas?

Their strategy is called "predator satiation". They reproduce by the millions in order to fill the bellies of predators, but still leave enough individuals to reproduce and survive as a species.

All the squirrels, birds, possums, snakes, lizards, raccoons, varmints, teenagers and other predators will be so full of cicadas and tired of eating them, that a just enough cicadas will escape and get to mate and reproduce.

Are cicadas attracted to the sound of lawnmowers and other machinery?

Yes, cicadas are attracted to the sound of lawnmowers, weed whackers, hedge trimmers, etc. Female cicadas think that these machines are males singing, and male cicadas show up to join the other males in what we call a "chorus".

Which fungus attacks Magicicadas?

Massospora cicadina is the fungus that attacks Magicicadas.

Male Magicicada septendecim infected with Massospora cicadina fungus

Can they see?

They sure can see! Get under a tree of periodical cicadas and they'll make a unique "ratcheting" sound to announce your presence. Most people assume that periodical cicadas can't see because they're abysmal flyers (compared to graceful butterflies) and because they're slow to move when approached.

Periodical cicadas don't bother to escape when confronted, and the reason is they don't have to -- since they emerge in HUGE numbers, some of their species are bound to survive no matter what. They devote their energy and limited time above ground to calling and mating, rather than running away from each and every possible predator.

What is the taxonomy of the Magicicada genus

Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
Phylum: Arthropoda (arthropods)
Subphylum: Hexapoda (hexapods)
Class: Insecta (insects)
Subclass: Pterygota (winged insects)
Infraclass: Neoptera (wing-folding insects)
Order: Hemiptera Linnaeus, 1758 (true bugs)
Suborder: Auchenorrhyncha (hoppers)
Infraorder: Cicadomorpha
Superfamily: Cicadoidea
Family: Cicadidae Latreille, 1802 (cicadas)
Subfamily: Cicadettinae Buckton, 1889
Tribe: Taphurini Distant, 1905
Subtribe: Tryellina Moulds, 2005
Genus: Magicicada Davis, 1925