Cicada Mania

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

August 26, 2018

Tips for making a time-lapse video of a cicada molting

Filed under: Community Science | Molting | Neotibicen — Tags: — Dan @ 8:51 am

Molting Morning Cicada

Time-lapse videos of insects molting can be as visually fascinating as they are scientifically important. Cicadas are amongst the best insect subjects for time-lapse because they’re relatively large, and depending on where you live, easy to find.

Equipment you’ll need for your time-lapse video:

  1. Lights. I use cheap LED and fluorescent lights. Not enough light and you’ll end up with a grainy video. Too much light and you’ll over-expose the subject and miss some important details. You’ll need a stand or tripod for your lights as well.
  2. A tripod for your camera. You want your camera to be as steady as possible. Hand-holding the camera is not recommended. The molting process takes hours.
  3. A camera. Some cameras have a Time-Lapse mode, but you could also take a photo every 30 seconds or so and use software to assemble the photos into a video. A camera with a large view screen is recommended so you can make adjustments to the lighting and framing of the insect.
  4. A platform for your cicada/insect. If you film outside use the tree the insect decides to molt on. If you film inside, build a structure using tree branches, or other materials the nymph can anchor onto.
  5. Video editing software. Free software works fine, as long as it lets you compile a series of photos into a single video.

I made my own platform out of some driftwood and a 2×4 I had lying around. Cheap but effective. Cicadas need to hang perpendicular to the ground so their wings will properly expand, so your creation needs to allow for that. A lot of people simply use a roll of paper towel.

Rig for Filming cicadas

Skills you’ll need to practice

  1. Patience. Unless you’re a pro who films wildlife all the time, you might need a few tries to get it right.
  2. Learn how to use the Time-Lapse feature of your camera.
  3. Learn how to light a small subject like a cicada.
  4. The ability to stay up late. The entire molting process can take up to 5-6 hours, especially if you want to let the cicada’s wings and body harden a bit. Coffee or tea helps (you, not the cicada).

If you’ve never tried filming a cicada molting before, you can practice lighting, focusing and using the time-lapse features of your camera with a paper model of a cicada. Just draw a cicada onto a small piece of paper, and pin it to a tree. If you know origami, even better.

Finding a specimen

I begin looking for cicada nymphs about 15 minutes after sunset. I find them at the base of trees, or ascending tree trunks. If you plan on filming indoors, or on a custom platform, treat the cicada with care. Be very gentle, and place the cicada nymph in a spacious enclosure — preferably one that allows it to grip, and hang off the side. I transport cicadas in a pop-up butterfly pavilion/habitat — these portable enclosures are made for butterflies, but they work well for other insects, like cicadas. Don’t forget to release the cicada the following day as well.

The overall process for shooting indoors

  1. Set up your rig: platform, lights, camera. Make sure your camera has an empty memory card in it and is charged/plugged in. Make sure all the lights are working. Place a towel or something soft at the base of the platform, in case the cicada falls (it happens).
  2. Collect your specimen. Bring a flashlight and a butterfly pavilion (or similar container). Gently grab the cicada nymph with your fingers and place in the container. do not collect a cicada that has already begun molting. Take some (not a lot) of tree branches with you. You can use the branches to augment your platform.
  3. Place the cicada at the base of the platform. Let it explore and become comfortable. Place it back at the base of the platform if it falls or wanders off.
  4. Once the cicada is ready to molt, it will stay still for a while. This is a good time to get your camera in focus and lights in the right position.
  5. The skin of the back of the nymph will split — look and listen for that. Start time-lapse filming. Example.
  6. Re-frame the camera as necessary to capture the cicada’s wings as they inflate.
  7. An hour after the cicada’s wings move into place (see that happen), you can stop filming, and place the cicada into the safety of the butterfly pavilion — or on a tree outside.
  8. Return the cicada to the outdoors within 12 hours.
  9. Use video editing software to compile the time-lapse frames into a video. I set each frame to 0.2 seconds — experiment with the times.
  10. Add the species of the cicada, the location where you found it, and other comments to the video.
  11. Share your video with friends, family and the world.

More tips:

  • The process takes a long time — you might be up until 1 or 2 am in the morning. Be prepared for that.
  • Film some non-time-lapse video as well. There are key moments during the molting process that happen quickly, like when the cicada pulls its abdomen from its old skin. Having a video of that is nice.
  • Be prepared to adjust the framing and focus a few times during the shoot. Don’t adjust too much though — just if the cicada’s wings fall out of frame.
  • The cicada will double its overall size. Its wings will hang downward. Be prepared for that when you frame the shot.

Some results:

My latest time-lapse video:

Notice how I frame the video.

A non-time-lapse detail:

A video where I used a tree branch to make the molting look more natural

January 23, 2018

New paper: Massospora cicadina hijacks the sexual signals of periodical cicadas

A new paper, A specialized fungal parasite (Massospora cicadina) hijacks the sexual signals of periodical cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae: Magicicada), has been published by John R. Cooley, David C. Marshall & Kathy B. R. Hill, in Scientific Reports 8, Article number: 1432 (2018).

Read the paper online.

In a nutshell: the fungus infects males and causes them to exactly mimic the mating behavior of female cicadas, thus infected males end up spreading the fungus to uninfected males.

Abstract:

Male periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp.) infected with conidiospore-producing (“Stage I”) infections of the entomopathogenic fungus Massospora cicadina exhibit precisely timed wing-flick signaling behavior normally seen only in sexually receptive female cicadas. Male wing-flicks attract copulation attempts from conspecific males in the chorus; close contact apparently spreads the infective conidiospores. In contrast, males with “Stage II” infections that produce resting spores that wait for the next cicada generation do not produce female-specific signals. We propose that these complex fungus-induced behavioral changes, which resemble apparently independently derived changes in other cicada-Massospora systems, represent a fungus “extended phenotype” that hijacks cicadas, turning them into vehicles for fungus transmission at the expense of the cicadas’ own interests.

And now, because I need an image for the post: a meme:

Fungus Bae

Cicadas, when infected, are called “salt shakers of doom”. Add that to the meme “Salt Bae”, and the image makes sense.

November 5, 2017

New paper: thermal adaptation in North American cicadas

Temperature plays an important part in much of cicada behavior, such as determining when they emerge from the ground, and when they are active above ground.

There’s a new paper out from Allen F.Sanborn, James E.Heath, Maxine S.Heath and Polly K.Phillips titled “Thermal adaptation in North American cicadas”.

Here are the highlights:

  • Thermal responses are related specific environments of North America cicadas.
  • Thermoregulatory strategy can influence thermal responses in sympatric species.
  • Emergence time can influence thermal responses in sympatric species.
  • Subspecies in general do not differ in their thermal responses.
  • Thermal responses within a species do not differ in populations separated by more than 7600 km.

And here’s the citation info (even though I’m not citing anything):


Allen F. Sanborn, James E. Heath, Maxine S. Heath, Polly K. Phillips, Thermal adaptation in North American cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae), In Journal of Thermal Biology, Volume 69, 2017, Pages v-xviii, ISSN 0306-4565, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtherbio.2017.07.011.
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030645651730181X)

April 18, 2017

When do cicadas sing?

Filed under: Behavior | Sounds — Dan @ 6:37 am

Most, if not all cicadas sing during the day, but what time of day they sing depends on the species and the weather. There are over 3,000 species of cicadas, and each has its own unique behavior.

Typically, cicadas do not sing at night, but there are exceptions. Most of the time when you hear an insect at night, it’s a cricket or katydid.

Most cicadas love the sun, so rain and cloudy skies will decrease the likelihood they will sing. Temperature also affects whether or not they will sing. If it is too cold, or too hot cicadas won’t sing. Tolerance for temperature depends on the species.

Cicadas, depending on the species, will sing depending on the number and proximity of other cicadas in their area. Periodical cicadas, when there are enough in a given area, will synchronize their songs forming a chorus (a group effort to attract females).

When they sing during the day, under perfect conditions, depends on the species. Each species has its favorite time to sing, for example, in North America:

  • Neotibicen tibicen, also known as Morning Cicadas, typically sing before noon.
  • Neotibicen latifasciatus, aka Coastal Scissor Grinder Cicada, seem to sing throughout the day, taking breaks during the most brutal sunlight and temperatures.
  • Megatibicen auletes, also know as the Northern Dusk-Singing Cicada, sings for about a half hour around sunset.
  • Periodical cicadas, like Magicicada septendecim, typically sing between 10am and 5pm.

Recapping, when cicadas sing depends on:

  1. The species
  2. The amount of light (sun or artificial)
  3. The amount of cicadas in a given area
  4. Rain, clouds, and other “bad weather”
  5. The temperature

Cicadas can be surprising “rule breakers” so don’t be surprised to hear them when least expected.

More examples and references to come…

May 21, 2016

Why do some cicadas have shriveled up or damaged wings?

Filed under: FAQs | Molting — 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:

  1. If a cicada molts and its wings are not able to hang downward they won’t inflate with fluids and form properly.
  2. Cicadas often trample each other in the rush to find a place on a tree to molt.
  3. Harsh weather, like wind and rain, knock them to the ground or bend their wings when they’re soft.
  4. Pesticides
  5. Malnutrition.
  6. Physical weakness or defects.
  7. Fungi infection.
  8. Predator attacks.


Reasons 1 and 2 are due to humans reducing cicada habitat (forests & fields) and replacing the habitat with buildings, streets, sidewalks, etc. Yes — you are the problem :). But — you are also the solution. The best paper on this is “Faulty Eclosion in Crowded Suburban Periodical Cicadas: Populations Out of Control” by JoAnn White; Monte Lloyd; Jerrold H. Zar (https://www.jstor.org/stable/1937659?seq=1).

Stuck

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 cicadas 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.


Here’s a good photo by Jim Occi:

Adult Brood II Magicicada septendecim from Westfield NJ by Jim Occi


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.

Marvin. Didn't make it all the way out of its old skin. :(
Although adorable, this Neotibicen will never sing or fly.

July 5, 2015

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

Filed under: Behavior | FAQs | Magicicada — Dan @ 7:41 am

Cicadas on Man Are cicadas attracted to the sound of lawnmowers and other machinery? Yes! Cicadas, particularly Magicicada periodical cicadas, are attracted to lawnmowers, weed-whackers, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, power drills, etc. If it is loud and vibrates, cicadas will be attracted to it. Why? Most likely because they think your tool is a particularly impressive periodical cicada chorusing center, so males want to join in with the chorus and females want to mate with the particularly impressive males.

So, next time you’ve got the old angle grinder out, don’t be surprised if a cicada lands on your shoulder.


November 19, 2014

Video of Magicicada septendecula from Brood II

Filed under: Brood II | Magicicada | Ovipositing | Periodical | Video — Tags: — Dan @ 7:45 am

Here are two videos of Magicicada septendecula from Brood II.

Female Magicicada septendecula

Magicicada septendecula from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

A female Magicicada septendecula ovipositing

A female Magicicada septendecula ovipositing from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

June 11, 2013

Cicada Video of the Week

Filed under: Brood II | Magicicada | Ovipositing | Periodical | Video — Tags: — Dan @ 4:18 am

Here’s some cicada video I shot over the weekend. Enjoy:

Magicicada trying to take a drink from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

Singing Magicicada septendecim from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

Magicicada septendecim ovipositing from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

Magicicada septendecim ovipositing from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

Close up of a tymbal of a Magicicada septendecim from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

December 2, 2012

Mating Bladder cicadas

Filed under: Cystosoma | David Emery | Mating — Tags: — Dan @ 7:34 am


Mating bladders 2, originally uploaded by ozzicada.

An excellent photo of mating Bladder cicadas (Cystosoma saundersii) by David Emery.

November 10, 2012

Cicada Turrets or Chimneys

Filed under: Chimneys — Dan @ 9:29 am

Cicada nymphs create what we call turrets or chimneys above the tunnel hole where they will eventually emerge. These chimneys are made from soil. They are a positive indication of where cicada nymphs are underground and that they will emerge soon. Cicadas seem to build chimneys in wetter, muddier areas; in dry areas they will simply make holes at the surface. The chimneys will help keep water and mud from back-filling their holes, so they can continue to breathe, take a peek out and prepare to emerge.

Magicicada Tunnel (by Les Daniels):

Magicicada chimney

Magicicada chimney

A cicada tunnel in Bangkok Thailand (by Santisuk Vibul):
cicada tunnel view from top Thailand photo by Santisuk Vibul

Three Magicicada chimneys (by Roy Troutman):

Magicicada nymph turret by Roy:

This is video taken of a magicicada nymph turret. These turrets are often found in wet areas.

Magicicada nymph turret from Roy Troutman on Vimeo.

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