Cicada Mania

Dedicated to cicadas, the most amazing insects in the world.

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Cicada season has begun in Australia!. Australia is known for cicadas with names as colorful and interesting as the cicadas themselves.

As leaf colors brighten in the U.S. & Canada, cicadas season will fade. Probably the last cicada heard in 2020 will be the Megatibicen figuratus (Walker, 1858) aka Fall Southeastern Dusk-singing Cicada somewhere in Florida.

What are Cicadas?

molting Magicicada (left) and Neotibicen (right)
Molting Magicicada septendecim (left), molted Neotibicen tibicen (right).


An illustration of cicada tymbals from C.L. Marlatt's The Periodical Cicada. c shows the muscles and tendons connected to the tymbals, and d & e show the bending of the tymbal.

Cicadas (Insecta: Hemiptera: Cicadidae) are insects, best known for the songs sung by most, but not all, male cicadas. Males sing by flexing their tymbals, which are drum-like organs found in their abdomens. Small muscles rapidly pull the tymbals in and out of shape. The sound is intensified by the cicada's mostly hollow abdomen. Female and some male cicadas will also make a sound by flicking their wings, but it isn't the same as the sound for which cicadas are known. Listen to some of the songs cicadas sing.

A feeding cicada

A Magicicada drinking from a tree. Photo by Roy Troutman.

Cicadas belong to the order Hemiptera, suborder Auchenorrhyncha, superfamily Cicadoidea and families Cicadidae (the vast majority of cicadas) or Tettigarctidae (only two species). There are five subfamilies of Cicadidae: Derotettiginae, Tibicininae, Tettigomyiinae, Cicadettinae and Cicadinae. Leafhoppers, spittle bugs and jumping plant lice are close relatives of the cicada. Hemiptera are different from other insects in that both the nymph and adult forms have a beak (aka rostrum), which they use to suck fluids called xylem from plants. This is how they both eat and drink.

The Latin root for the word for cicada is cicada. Cicadas are called semi in Japan, cigale in France, and cigarra in Spain. Names for cicadas in countries around the world.

Life Cycle

Cicadas begin life as a rice-shaped egg, which the female deposits in a groove she makes in a tree limb, using her ovipositor. The groove provides shelter and exposes the tree fluids, which the young cicadas feed on. These grooves can kill small branches. When the branches die and leaves turn brown, it is called flagging.

Once the cicada hatches from the egg it will begin to feed on the tree fluids. At this point, it looks like a termite or small white ant. Once the young cicada is ready, it crawls from the groove and falls to the ground where it will dig until it finds roots to feed on. It will typically start with smaller grass roots and work its way up to the roots of its host tree. The cicada will stay underground from 2 to 17 years depending on the species. Cicadas are active underground, tunneling and feeding, and not sleeping or hibernating as commonly thought.

After the long 2 to 17 years, cicadas emerge from the ground as nymphs. Nymphs climb the nearest available tree, and begin to shed their nymph exoskeleton. Free of their old skin, their wings will inflate with fluid and their adult skin will harden. Once their new wings and body are ready, they can begin their brief adult life.

Adult cicadas, also called imagoes, spend their time in trees looking for a mate. Males sing, females respond, mating begins, and the cycle of life begins again.

Cicada Life Cycle
Top, Left to Right: cicada egg, freshly hatched nymph, 2nd and 3rd instar nymphs. Bottom, Left to Right: 4th instar nymph, teneral adult, adult. (Photos by Roy Troutman and Elias Bonaros).

Different Types of Life Cycles

There are three types of cicada life cycles:

  1. Annual: Cicada species with annual life cycles emerge every year, for example, Swamp Cicadas (Neotibicen tibicen) emerge every year in the United States, and Green Grocers (Cyclochila australasiae) emerge every year in Australia.
  2. Periodical: Cicadas species with periodical life cycles emerge together after long periods of time, for example, Magicicada septendecim will emerge every 17 years (Find out where they'll emerge next). Magicicada periodical cicadas are organized into Broods, which correspond to the series of years in which they will emerge. Only periodical cicadas are organized by Brood.
  3. Proto-periodical: Cicada species with proto-periodical life cycles might emerge every year, but every so many years they emerge in heavy numbers, like the Okanagana.

How Many Cicadas Are There?

There are over 190 varieties (including species & subspecies) of cicadas in North America, and over 3,390 varieties of cicadas around the world. This number grows each year as researchers discover and document new species. Cicadas exist on every continent but Antarctica.

The Largest Cicada:

The world's largest species of cicada is the Megapomponia imperatoria, which is native to Malaysia. The largest species in North America is Megatibicen auletes, aka the Northern Dusk Singing Cicada. Other notably large cicadas include the Bear Cicada of Japan (Cryptotympana facialis), and Tacua speciosa of south-east Asia.

The Loudest Cicadas:

The world's loudest cicada is the Brevisana brevis, a cicada found in Africa that reaches 106.7 decibels when recorded at a distance of 50cm (~20"), according to researcher John Petti.

The Megatibicen pronotalis walkeri (formerly known as Tibicen walkeri) is the loudest cicada in North America and can achieve 105.9 decibels, measured at 50cm.

That said, Australian species of cicadas, like the Double Drummer (Thopa saccata) are said to approach 120 (deafening) decibels at close range. It is unknown how many decibels Thopa saccata can create at 50cm.

More info about the loudest cicadas.

Longest Lifecycle:

The most well-known cicadas in North America are the Magicicada periodical cicadas, aka "locusts", which have amazingly long 17 or 13 year lifecycles. Brood VIII (17-year life cycle) will emerge in Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2019. Magicicada have been documented to emerge after 22 years. Read more: How long do cicadas live?

The cicada information on Cicada Mania is not limited to North America. We have some cicada photos and information for Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America thanks to contributors around the world.

Learn about everyone's favorite cicada, Tacua speciosa:

Tacua speciosa from Malaysia on a leaf

Top 10 Topics covered on the 1,500+ pages on the site

  1. Magicicada, the genus of 17 & 13 year periodical cicadas found n the U.S.
  2. Cicadas of the United States.
  3. The Cryptotympanini tribe of cicadas. Cicadas with hidden (crypto) "drums" (tympan*).
  4. Cicadas with a Periodical lifecycle, like 13 & 17-year Magicicada cicadas, 4-year World Cup Chremistica ribhoi, and 8-year Raiateana knowlesi.
  5. The mostly green, black & white Neotibicen genus of cicadas found in the U.S.
  6. Cicadas described by William T. Davis, who described over 140 species of cicadas.
  7. Photos & Illustrations of cicadas. These are the galleries of cicadas on the site. Most pages on the site feature a photo.
  8. Cicadas described by W. L. Distant, who described over 580 species of cicadas.
  9. Cicadas of Australia and the researchers who study them.
  10. Pages with Video of cicadas.