Cicada Mania

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

June 27, 2015

Is there such thing as an albino cicada?

Filed under: Anatomy | FAQs — Dan @ 11:55 am

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 X Magicicada photos by Nate Rhodes from 2004.
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.

June 26, 2015

How to tell if a Cicada is a Male or Female?

Filed under: Anatomy | FAQs | Identify — Dan @ 4:43 am

Here is how to tell the difference between a male cicada and a female cicada (for most species):

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.

This is an image comparing the abdomens of male and female Magicicada cicadas.

A detail of the genitals of two species of Magicicada

This image compares a male and a female Neotibicen lyricen. Note the difference in the curvature of the 7th sternite, the shape & location of the tymbal covers of the male, and the valvulae & ovipositor of the female.

Male and female Neotibicen:
male and female cicadas compared

Also, if the cicada is laying eggs in the branch of a tree, that’s proof that it’s a female. Here is a video of that:

June 25, 2015

How do you pronounce Cicada?

Filed under: FAQs | William T. Davis — Dan @ 8:35 pm

You can say “si-kah-da” or “si-kay-da”. Either pronunciation is correct. The pronunciation changes depending on your regional accent.

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. Davis described over 100 cicadas in his career — he should know what he’s saying. 🙂

William T. Davis

February 22, 2015

10 Facts about Cicada Killer Wasps

Filed under: Cicada Killer Wasps | FAQs — Dan @ 8:58 pm

Elias Bonaros Cicada Killer Wasp
Photo by Elias Bonaros. The Cicada Killer is focused on the cicada, and not bothered by Elias’ finger.

Every now and then someone will email me about “a giant bee attacking a cicada”. These are not bees, these are Cicada Killer Wasps. Now is a good time to write about them because Prof. Chuck Holliday is now retired and has shut down his Cicada Killer Wasp website 1.

Here are 10 facts about Cicada Killer Wasps for you to enjoy:

  1. Yes, these wasps kill cicadas1. it works like this:
    1. The adult female wasp will paralyze the cicada with her venomous sting.
    2. The wasp will carry the cicada to a burrow, where it will place the cicada.
    3. The wasp will lay an egg under the left or right second leg of the cicada.
    4. The egg hatches and the larva begins to eat the cicada while taking care to keep it alive.
    5. Once the larva has had its fill, it spins a cocoon, in which it will change into an adult wasp.
  2. Female wasps are able to predetermine the sex of their larvae.1 They must do this because it takes more females to create new generations of wasps than it does males.
  3. Cicada Killer Wasps belong to the family Crabronidae Latreille, 1802; the tribe Bembicini Latreille, 1802 and the genus Sphecius Dahlbom, 1843 2. Crabronidae comes from the Latin word for hornet, Bembicini comes from the Greek word for buzzing insect, and Sphecius is from the Greek word for wasp.
  4. Not all Sphecius wasps in the world kill cicadas, but all Sphecius in the New World (the Americas) do 3.
  5. If you haven’t seen a Cicada Killer Wasp, they are largely black and pale yellow wasps, and are often found carrying a cicada (see image on this page).
  6. Cicada Killer Wasps are often confused with European Wasps (Vespa crabro). European Wasps are a more vibrant yellow color and feature more yellow than black. They also belong to an entirely different family of wasp: Vespidae.
  7. There are five species of Cicada Killer Wasps in the Americas 3:
    • Sphecius convallis (Patton, 1879) aka the Pacific Cicada Killer, is found in the U.S.A. and Mexico.
    • Sphecius grandis (Say, 1824), the Western Cicada Killer, is found in the U.S.A. Mexico and parts of Central America.
    • Sphecius hogardii (Latreille, 1809 aka the Caribbean Cicada Killer, is found in Florida and Caribbean countries.
    • Sphecius speciosus (Drury, 1773) aka the Eastern Cicada Killer, is found in Ontario, Canada, the U.S.A. Mexico and parts of Central America.
    • Sphecius spectabilis (Taschenberg, 1875) is found in South America.
  8. I know what you are thinking: are these terrifyingly large wasps a threat to human beings? The short answer is NO. They are so focused on cicadas or other Cicada Killer Wasps, that they could care less about you. Sure, if you step on one, squeeze one in your hand, or otherwise harass the insect, it might sting you. Unlike other wasps, it will not go out of its way to harm you. Play it safe, do not go near these wasps, particularly if you are allergic to stinging insects, or do not wish to be placed in a burrow with larvae tucked under your arm. That said, check out the video below of a Sphecius speciosus “mating ball” in Elias Bonaros’ hand:
  9. Some species of Cicada Killer Wasps show a preference for female cicadas (S. hogardii), and some seem to prefer male cicadas (S. grandis), but it is not clear why. You might think that these wasps will take more males than females because of the loud sound males cicadas make, but this is not the case 1.
  10. Cicada Killer Wasps (S. speciosus) will prey upon Magicicada periodical cicadas 3. There is a bit of a myth that Magicicada are able to avoid these wasps but that is not the case.

Bonus facts:

References:

  1. The “Biology of cicada killer wasps | Prof. Chuck Holliday's www page at Lafayette College” website which is now archived at http://web.archive.org/web/20150203211426/http://sites.lafayette.edu/hollidac/research/biology-of-cicada-killer-wasps/.
  2. The ITIS listing for Sphecius Dahlbom, 1843.
  3. Holliday, C., Hastings, J., and Coelho, J. 2009. Cicada Prey of New World Cicada Killers, Sphecius Spp. (Dahlbom, 1843) (Hymenoptera: Crabronidae). Entomological News. 120:1-17.

Bonus:

I love this tweet featuring the cicada collection of a cicada killer wasp:

Note: Cicada Killers are not related to Asian Giant Hornets currently being discussed in the press (May 2020). Cicada Killers are native to the U.S., and relatively gentle creatures (unless you are a cicada). They belong to the same order (Hymenoptera), but that’s about it.

This photo features an Asian Giant Hornet (left, under glass) and a Cicada Killer Wasp (right, above the glass):
hornet compared to wasp

Lastly, here’s a recent video of a man subjecting himself to a Cicada Killer Sting to show that you shouldn’t fear them.

November 19, 2014

Which fungus attacks Magicicadas? Massospora cicadina

Filed under: FAQs | Magicicada | Massospora — Dan @ 8:32 pm

The fungus Massospora cicadina preys on Magicicadas cicadas. This is particularly interesting because the fungus is able to prey upon them in spite of their long 17 year life cycle (apparently fungi are not phased by prime numbers).

When the fungus destroys the abdomen of male cicadas, they will behave like female cicadas and flick their wings in response to the songs of male cicadas, and attempt to mate with other males.

A photo by Roy Troutman from Brood XIV (2008):

Magicicada with Massospora. Roy Troutman. Brood XIV.

Two photos by Dan Mozgai from Brood II (2013):

Male Magicicada septendecim infected with Massospora cicadina fungus

Magicicada septendecim with Massosporan fungus found at the Edison Memorial Tower Park in Edison NJ

Magicicada fungus (massospora cicadina)

magicicada fungus (massospora cicadina) from Roy Troutman on Vimeo.

New from 2017: the Massospora cicadina viewed under a microscope.

November 16, 2014

Where can I buy cicadas online?

Filed under: FAQs | Websites — Dan @ 4:28 am

People ask, where can I buy cicadas online?

There are a lot of places, but here are my favorites:

  • Ebay.com. eBay is a good place to find cicada specimens, particularly if you are just starting your collection. Colorful Asian species dominate the species for sale, but you will usually find American species during or after a periodical cicada emergence (when those are plentiful). Most specimens you’ll find on eBay are mounted, but you can find unmounted specimens as well.
  • God of Insects. The God of Insects site has been around for a long time. You’ll find mostly Asian species, which are the most collectible because of their beauty.
  • BioQuipBugs. BioQuipBugs has a wide variety of species from a Africa, Asia, North and South America. Their prices are inexpensive. The specimens are also unmounted.
  • Search around the web. You might find other shops and different varieties of cicadas not found on the sites mentioned above.

    Keep in mind that some species might be over-collected to the point where it could endanger a species. I recommend, for that reason, that people limit their collections and not become too obsessed, as one might who collects toys or comic books.

October 5, 2014

What is the loudest cicada?

Filed under: Africa (Continent) | Anatomy | FAQs | Sounds — Dan @ 7:58 am

Africa is home to the Loudest cicada

A recent BBC article says researcher John Petti as found the answer: Brevisana brevis, an African cicada, reaches 106.7 decibels — with the loudest North American cicada, Megatibicen pronotalis walkeri at 105.9 decibels. Their sound was measured at a distance of 50cm (approximately 20 inches). Specifics about the equipment used and calibration of said equipment is not mentioned.

There are over 3500 types of cicadas in the world, and for now, Brevisana brevisis the king of the insect noisemakers. More information on Petti’s study can be found here. Sound files of Brevisiana brevis.

In North America

The article does introduce room for skepticism and debate, by noting that other species come very close (Diceroprocta apache), that the Megatibicen pronotalis walkeri alarm call reaches 108.9 decibels and a North American study that suggests decibels are correlated to body mass (and Brevisana brevis is not the most massive cicada).
Megatibicen pronotalis photo by Roy Troutman, taken in Batavia, Ohio
Megatibicen pronotalis photo by Roy Troutman, taken in Batavia, Ohio.

In Australia

According to the book Australian Cicadas by M.S. Moulds (New South Wales University Press, 1990) Cyclochila australasiae and Thopha saccata reach nearly 120db at close range. The “at close range” might be the key difference in measuring the sound, as Petti measured at a distance of 50cm.
Double Drummer (Thopha saccata)
Double Drummer (Thopha saccata), a cicada found in Australia, can reach 120db at close range. Photo by Kevin Lee.

What about Magicicada in the U.S.?

Personally, I’ve observed Magicicada cassini choruses achieve between 85 & 86 decibels (link to video), and M. cassini responding to fingersnaps (mimics female wing flicks) at as high as 116 decibels (link to video) 35s in). The 116 decibels level was recorded with the insect standing on the microphone of my Extech 407730. Magicicada choruses have been documented to reach 100 decibels

Magicicada chorus at around 80db:

Some people want to know how loud a cicada can get just because it is a cool fact to know, but others are concerned about noise-induced hearing loss (about which, I am not an expert). Both decibels and prolonged exposure seem to matter. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders page on Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, prolonged exposure to sounds over 85db can cause hearing loss (just above the chorus of a Magicicada). The WebMD harmful noise levels page has chainsaws and leaf blowers in the range of the loudest cicadas. Lessons learned: 1) Make sure you wear hearing protection if you plan on blowing leaves or searching for the loudest cicada, and 2) Do not complain about the cicadas in your yard — complain about your neighbors and their leaf blowers.

Male cicadas, in case you were wondering, use their opercula (flaps on their abdomen) to cover their tympana (the cicadas hearing organs) when they sing, so they don’t damage their own hearing. Cicadas — male and female — listen with their tympana.

June 6, 2013

How loud/noisy (in decibels) do periodical cicadas get?

Filed under: Brood II | Elias Bonaros | FAQs | Magicicada | Periodical | Roy Troutman | Sounds | Video — Tags: , — Dan @ 5:17 am

Last Thursday Roy Troutman, Elias Bonaros and I traveled around central New Jersey, looking for cicadas. They were not hard to find. Elias found a location in Colonia that had a particularly loud Magicicada cassini chorusing center. Using my camera and Extech 407730 40-to-130-Decibel Digital Sound Level Meter, I recorded the calls of these cicadas and how loud they can get. The quality of the video isn’t the best because it’s a camera, not a video camera, but it is good enough.

Magicicada cassini chorusing center peaking at 85db (on Vimeo):

Magicicada cassini chorusing center peaking at 85db from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

Elias and Roy used finger snaps, mimicking the wing snaps of female cicadas, to trick the males into singing:

Magicicada cassini responding to fingersnaps (on Vimeo):

Magicicada cassini responding to fingersnaps from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

We placed the M. cassini directly on the microphone and got calls as high as 109 decibels, in this video:

Magicicada cassini calling at 109db in Colonia NJ from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

There were a few M. septendecim in the area as well. A Magicicada septendecim goes from a Court II to Court III call as soon as it crawls on the decibel meter, in this video.

Magicicada septendecim court 3 from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

The cicada choruses in Central New Jersey have no doubt gotten louder since last week. Hopefully, on Sunday I’ll get back out to Central Jersey or Staten Island and make some recordings.

January 5, 2013

These are Not Cicada Insects!

Filed under: Anatomy | FAQs | Identify — Dan @ 4:07 am

I made this page for two reasons: 1) to point out insects and other animals that people commonly confuse with cicadas, and 2) list people, places and things named "cicada" that clearly are not cicadas.

By the way, if you’re looking for places to Identify insects that are not cicadas, try Bug Guide and What’s that Bug.

Order Orthoptera (Grasshoppers, Crickets, Katydids)

Are cicadas locusts? No, but people call them locusts, and have since the 1600’s.

Grasshoppers, Crickets and Katydids are often confused with cicadas because they are relatively large, singing insects. There are many differences between cicadas and Orthopterans, but the easiest way to tell them apart is Orthopterans have huge hind legs.

The Songs of Insects has song samples of grasshoppers, katydids, crickets and cicadas — listen and compare.

Learn more about insects belonging to the Order Orthoptera.

Grasshoppers / Locusts

True locusts are grasshoppers and definitely not cicadas.

Locust:

Locust

17-year cicada:

17-year cicada

People call periodical Magicicada cicadas "locusts" because they emerge in massive numbers like true locusts. Unlike true locusts — which will chew, eat and destroy virtually all vegetation they come across — most cicadas only cause damage to weaker tree branches when they lay their eggs. When true locusts come to town, your family might starve and die (because the locusts ate all your food). When cicadas come to town, your maple tree gets a few branches of brown leaves. Big difference.

Learn more about Grasshoppers on BugGuide.

Katydids

Katydids get confused with cicadas for both the way they look and for the sounds they make. Some key differences: katydids usually have wings that look like green leaves, long antennae, and large hind legs for jumping. Most of the time you year an insect at night, it’s either a cricket or a katydid.

Amblycorypha oblongifolia,-side_2012-07-26-17.10.53-ZS-PMax
Photo by USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory.

Learn more about Katydids on BugGuide.

Learn about North American Katydids on orthsoc.org

Crickets

Crickets don’t look like cicadas, but they do make sounds. Most of the time you year an insect at night, it’s either a cricket or a katydid.

Velarifictorus micado,-side_2012-07-09-18.36.02-ZS-PMax
Photo by USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory.

Learn more about crickets on BugGuide.

Learn about North American Crickets on orthsoc.org

Sphinx Moths

Sphinx Moths are confused for cicadas because, at a glance, they have a similar shape. Learn more about Sphinx moths.

Hawk or Sphinx Moth
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region

Other members of the Suborder Auchenorrhyncha

Planthoppers (Infraorder Fulgoromorpha), Froghoppers (Infraorder Cicadomorpha > Superfamily Cercopoidea), and Cicadelloidea (Infraorder Cicadomorpha > Superfamily Membracoidea ) are often mistaken for cicadas (Infraorder Cicadomorpha > Superfamily Cicadoidea) because they share the same Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order and Suborder — and they look a lot alike. The big difference is cicadas sing, while other members of Auchenorrhyncha do not sing.

Leafhopper, U, top, Patuxant, MD_2012-10-09-11.40.20 ZS PMax
Plant-Hopper,-side_2012-07-06-19.25.23-ZS-PMax
Photos by USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory.

Learn more about the other members of the Suborder Auchenorrhyncha.

June Bugs

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

Beetle Larve Grubs

“I dug up a white grub in my backyard. 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. Long larvae = beetle larvae.

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 nymph

Frogs

Frog calls are often mistaken for cicada song, particularly at night.

Birds

Bird calls can be mistaken for cicada song. Some birds that can mimic sounds, such as Lyrebirds, Mockingbirds, and Psittaciformes (Parrots) could conceivably mimic cicada sounds.

The HORSE

No one would confuse a horse with a cicada (visually and audibly speaking), but there was a famous horse named cicada.

People, Places and Things Named Cicada

These are people (in the form of Bands), places and things named cicada. They often show up on Flickr, Twitter, eBay or Amazon, when I’m searching for cicada insects. It is awesome that people name stuff after cicadas (but it can be annoying when you’re searching for cicada insects, and other stuff shows up).

Bands

There are many bands with "cicada" in their name. These show up a lot on eBay and Twitter. Here is a partial list:

There are many albums named Cicada as well, such as Cicada by Cat Scientist. That one comes up a lot in ebay.

Places

These places show up on twitter, and when I search for cicada photos on Flickr.

Things

Here’s a list of other things that often show up in eBay, Twitter and Amazon.

  • BattleTech BattleMech Cicada is a toy.
  • Cicada is a company that makes dental equipment.
  • Cicada Magazine is a magazine for children.
  • The Cicada is a multi tool.
  • PageFlip Cicada is a wireless Bluetooth pedal designed to meet the needs of musicians and people with disabilities who struggle with the challenge and inconvenience of page turning.


November 7, 2012

How to learn more about cicadas, by searching for cicada researchers

Filed under: Allen F. Sanborn | FAQs | Zammara — Dan @ 10:58 pm

Just about anything and everything ends up on the web these days, including research papers written by cicada researchers. Many of these papers are easily downloaded from the web, and once downloaded you can read them and expand your knowledge about cicadas.

This weekend I was looking for information about cicadas from Central and South America (the Neotropic ecozone). Allen F. Sanborn, Ph.D is well known for his research of cicadas of that region, so I searched for some of his research papers. Google will retrieve all PDF (Adobe Acrobat) files that contain the word cicada and the name Allen F. Sanborn, when you search for “Allen F. Sanborn cicada ext:pdf” (remove the quotes when you search).

Some interesting papers I found include:

Checklist of the cicadas (Insecta: Hemiptera: Cicadidae) of Paraguay including new records for six species (Sanborn, Allen F., 2011). This paper includes a long list of cicada species, which I used to look for images of cicadas on Flickr.com.

The new records increase the known cicada diversity 37.5% bringing the total number of cicada species reported in Paraguay to 22 species in 12 genera representing five tribes and three subfamilies of the family Cicadidae. There are currently no known endemic species.

Two New Zammara Species from South America (Hemiptera: Cicadomorpha: Cicadidae) (Sanborn, Allen F., Florida Entomologist 87(3),2004). This paper includes many photographs, which make cicada identification easy.

ABSTRACT
Two new members of the widespread Neotropical genus Zammara Amyot & Serville, Zammara
olivacea n.sp. from Columbia and Zammara medialinea n.sp. from Venezuela are described.

Key Words: new species, taxonomy, cicada, Zammara, Columbia, Venezuela.

New Records for the Cicada Fauna from Four Central American Countries (HEMIPTERA: CICADOIDEA: CICADIDAE (Sanborn, Allen F.; Florida Entomologist 89(1), 2006). This article features a map with cicada species names.

ABSTRACT
Analysis of museum specimens has added to the cicada fauna of Belize, El Salvador, Guate- mala, and Honduras. Information on the cicada fauna reported in the literature as well as the first records of cicada species to the fauna are reported here to provide a more accurate un- derstanding of cicada diversity in each country and the region. The new records represent an increase of 75, 14, 110, and 320%, respectively, to the cicada faunal diversity of each country.
Key Words: cicadas, biodiversity, Central America

If you use my Google formula, you can find these papers too.

The The Current Status of Cicada Taxonomy on a Region-by-Region Basis page on Cicada Central is a good resource for learning about other cicada researchers.

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