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June 27, 2015

Can cicadas see?

Filed under: Anatomy | FAQs — Dan @ 12:45 pm

Yes, cicadas can see. People might assume that cicadas cannot see because they are slow to move when approached or are easy to capture.

Cicada Eyes

Cicadas have 5 eyes. Two large compound eyes, which are used to visually perceive the world around them, and three small, jewel-like, simple eyes called ocelli. We believe the ocelli are used to perceive light & darkness. The fact that there are three of them, arranged in a triangle, may help them triangulate the direction of the sun or the movement of a shadow.

The reason they are easy to capture right after they have molted is that their body parts are not hardened and ready to react quickly. The reason they are easy to catch once their bodies are hardened is often that they want to be caught, due to a species survival strategy called predator satiation (more on that in a future article).

8 Comments »

  1. Kristen Russi says:

    Hi! Does anyone know how well cicadas can see? Can they see UV light like bees? Any info is appreciated. Thx!

    1. Dan says:

      I don’t know about UV. But they see well enough. They have 5 eyes.

  2. Katie says:

    Do we know why cicadas have red eyes?

    1. Dan says:

      @Katie, I don’t know, but now I want to know. I’ll ask around.

      The red color is linked to the orange color of their wings, and abdomen (present in 2 of the 3 species). We know this because 1 in 10,000 will have white eyes, and when that happens the wings are also white.

      Their adult bodies are black because it helps them warm up in the sun, which is necessary since they arrive in the spring, not summer. They’re not green, because camouflage isn’t necessary for them — because there are so many they can afford to lose much of their population to predators, so no need to hide.

      Most of their communication is through sound — either the song of the males or wing flicks of the females — not visual, but having contrasting colors — red & yellow/orange on black — might help them visually recognize and orient each other. Even though wing flicks are an audio thing, the contrast of colors might help males see the females as well:

      It might also help avian predators find them, which can be on purpose because part of their strategy is to have a large amount of them to be eaten, so many more can survive. Most mammals cannot see red, not sure about snakes… bird like berries. Red eyes kind of look like berries.

      The red color might be an exponent of the nutrients they absorb when their gut bacteria digests their food for them. Maybe there’s a lot of iron oxide left over. Maybe.

      For sure we know that 1) they don’t care about camouflage, 2) they need to be mostly black to warm up, 3) a contrast in color might help them recognize and mutually orient each other, and probably helps birds spot them, which they want to happen for some extent.

      I’ll have to get back to you.

      1. Dan says:

        Might be a UV filter too.

  3. wolfgang planz says:

    the combination of the five eyes must make total sense in an evolutionary sense . I have observed adult cicadas perform breathtaking maneuvers in the air , outmaneuvering the most agile raptor’s , leaving them with no chance of catching them .

  4. Marsha says:

    If we don’t see any evidence of them by Memorial Day are we in the clear ?

    1. Dan says:

      @Marsha, I’m guessing you’re talking about the Brood VIII cicadas. If so, it’s likely you are in the clear.

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