Cicada Mania

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November 17, 2011

How to say cicada around the world

Filed under: FAQs | Genera — Dan @ 6:06 am

Ever wonder how people say “cicada” around the world. According to Google Translate, here’s how to say “cicada” in 44 different languages.

This page is a little messed up at the moment. Check back later.

Afrikaans: sonbesie
Armenian: ts’ikada
Belarusian: cykady
Bulgarian: tsikada
Catalan: cigala
Chinese: Chán
Czech: cikáda
Dutch: cicade
Estonian: tsikaad
Filipino: kuliglig
Finnish: laulukaskas
French: cigale
Galician: cigarra
German: Zikade
Greek: tzitzíki
Haitian Creole: sigal
Hindi: Sikada
Hungarian: kabóca
Indonesian: tonggeret
Italian: cicala
Japanese: Semi
Kannada: Rekkeya
Korean: maemi
Latvian: cikade
Macedonian: cikada
Malay: Cengkerik
Maori: Tatarakihi
Polish: cykada
Portuguese: cigarra
Romanian: greier
Russian: tsikada
Serbian: cikada
Slovak: Cikada
Spanish: cigarra, chicharra
Swedish: cikada
Ukrainian: tsykada
Vietnamese: con ve

Last edited 3/29/2021.

June 28, 2008

Do cicadas bite or sting?

Filed under: Anatomy | FAQs — Dan @ 12:03 pm

If you believe you’ve been bitten and you’re concerned, the best thing to do is to consult a doctor, not this webpage. 🙂

Technically cicadas don’t bite or sting; they do however pierce and suck. They might try to pierce and suck you, but don’t worry, they aren’t Vampires nor are they malicious or angry — they’re just ignorant and think you’re a tree. Just remove the cicada from your person, and go about your business. Cicadas also have pointy feet, egg-laying parts (ovipositors), and other sharp parts that might feel like a bite.

Cicadas don’t have jaws (mandibles) like a wasp, mantis, or ant, built to tear and chew flesh. Cicadas don’t have stingers, like bees and wasps, meant to deploy venom and paralyze or otherwise harm their victim. See a video of a Japanese hornet to see what I mean.

Cicadas obtain sustenance by drinking tree fluids, which are relatively watery compared to human blood. Drinking human blood would probably kill a cicada.

Caution: Don’t hold cicadas in a closed fist — you can hurt the cicadas, and they might try to drink from your hand meat.

(Reference these meme groups for more info Entomemeology and Wild Green Memes For Ecological Fiends).

Actual photo. Even with an open palm, they might take a taste!
Hand meat

Here is a video of a cicada that has confused my thumb for a juicy tree limb:

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

See if you can spot the cicadas sucker in this illustration:

Illustration from Marlatt

Here’s a photo of a cicada’s mouth parts:

cicada mouth part

There is also a chance that if you believe you’ve been bitten by a cicada, you might have been bitten by a Cicada Killer Wasp. The Cicada Killer Wasp is a large wasp that hunts cicadas and usually can be found around cicadas or often attached to a cicada. Cicada Killer Wasps normally avoid humans, but if you mess with one, it might attack.

Tip of the day: If you want to avoid cicadas, don’t use power tools, drills, saws, lawnmowers, weed whackers, leaf blowers, etc. in their presence. Cicadas think the sounds made by these tools and machines are other cicadas. Female cicadas want to mate with the male cicadas they think they’re hearing, and male cicadas want to compete. If you can, use these tools in the morning or close to dusk when the temperatures are cooler, and cicadas are less active.

What is the purpose of cicadas?

Filed under: FAQs | Magicicada — Dan @ 11:35 am

Here’s a question we get a lot: “what is the purpose of cicadas?” It can be a loaded question, but I think people just want a concrete answer to justify the magnitude of the unusual (why only once every 17 years, why so many) or annoying (inconvenience, noise, ornamental tree damage) aspects of the 17-year cicadas. Every living thing has a reason for existing, a niche to fill, a role to play, a purpose — let’s consider how cicadas fit it to the big picture.

It helps to consider perspective when considering the purpose. I’ll break their purpose down into 4 groups, for this: critters, fungi, trees, and people. Critters first, because their relationship with cicadas is the easiest to explain.

The cicada’s purpose in terms of critters:

Cicadas provide a link in the food chain between trees and critters, which I’ll define as any animal that will eat a cicada. Critters love cicadas, and a 17-year cicada emergence is the single greatest feast of their lives. It’s like 17 years of Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthday parties rolled into one incredible month.

Trees feed off the sun and nutrients in the soil, cicadas feed off the trees, critters eat cicadas, and alpha predators (wolves, foxes, bears, cats, game fish, people) eat critters. The massive release of food and energy that comes from a cicada emergence results in an explosion of critter populations, which in turn results in a boon for alpha predators as well.

The cicada’s purpose in terms of fungi:

I’m not a fungi expert, but I’m pretty sure different species of fungi have a grand time digesting dead cicada bodies once they’ve died and begin to rot (I’m sure the same is true for bacteria, and microscopic critters). Fungi, of course, become another link in the food chain.

There is one fungus, the Massospora cicadina fungus, that really loves cicadas. The Massospora cicadina spreads via cicada mating and destroys the cicadas entire abdomen in a matter of days. If you’re a Massospora cicadina, from your perspective, the cicadas purpose is to provide you with nourishment and a home. Gruesome, but true.

The cicada’s purpose in terms of trees:

Periodical cicadas are parasites of trees, more specifically of deciduous trees (leaves fall off in the fall) native to the region in which the periodical cicadas exist (maples, oaks, ash, etc.). The term parasite has negative connotations, but in the grand scheme of things, parasites can benefit their hosts, or other species by keeping their hosts in check.

Cicadas provide trees a service by pruning the weak branches of a tree. Cicadas lay eggs in the branch, weak branches wither and die (“flagging”), and the tree benefits from that by not having to waste energy on a weak or diseased branch.

Cicadas also do the trees a service by dying and releasing a vast amount of nutrients back into the soil. When the cicadas die, it’s like dumping bags of fertilizer around the roots of the trees. The extra nutrients should result in a spurt in tree growth and seed production the following spring, which would result in an increase in tree populations (and acorns, which critters love to eat).

A small percentage of small, weak trees will die during each emergence, particularly non-native species (like imported ornamentals). This can be frustrating for people concerned with the landscaping on their property, but in terms of trees in general, it’s not as bad as it seems. The fertilizing and pruning cicadas perform will actually benefit the older trees in such a way that will encourage them to produce more seeds the following year. Any loss of trees will be balanced by gains in the following years. Also, cicadas may do native trees a favor by weakening or killing non-native ornamental trees, which compete for the native tree’s food.

The cicada’s purpose in terms of people:

Cicadas are a food source. Many people around the world eat cicadas, and not just “on a dare”, but as a delicacy or staple food. Cicadas have made more than one appearance on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern for instance. Native American peoples also ate cicadas too — and in at least one case it kept a tribe alive during hard times. In most places, though, cicadas are not a sustainable found source, so insectivore gourmets should rely on easily farmable insects like crickets, waxworms, and mealworms.

Cicadas provide people with a job. Those people include professors and researchers like Gene Kritsky or John Cooley, scientists, and landscapers.

Cicadas provide people, including me, with a hobby. There are a lot worse things you can do with your time.

Cicadas provide artists and musicians with inspiration. There are bands and albums named after cicadas, and many songs inspired by cicadas.

Cicadas defending America? Could be. The Navy is researching cicadas according to the Massachusetts Cicadas site.

Cicadas provide memories. If you think about it, we people don’t have all that many milestone experiences in our lives: we have our first day at school, graduations, we get our first car, weddings, we buy your first house, children are born, loved ones pass away, special vacations, and maybe we experience a flood, fire or other unfortunate but remarkable events. A periodical cicada emergence is remarkable because it not only places a memorable milestone in the timeline of our lives, it places a series of them; a series of milestones, 17 years apart, and not only within our lives, but linking our historical timelines to the timelines of your children, and grandchildren. Gene Kritsky calls cicadas the insects of history, and I think you can understand why.

Recently, cicadas were discovered to have microscopic structures on their wings that destroy bacteria. This is discovery is being used to inspire medical advancements, such as antibacterial cornea replacements. Amazing.

Some papers on this topic, and other scientific uses for cicada wings and skins:

Cicadas can also be used to gauge soil pollution, as they spend most of their life in the soil they absorb the chemicals introduced into the soil from human pollution.

June 4, 2008

Where are they now, and what is that smell?

Filed under: Brood XIV | FAQs — Dan @ 8:52 am


Folks wondering where the cicadas are now should take a look at the ‘Where Are They Now’ page on The Mount’s Cicada Web Site or the ‘See a map of 2008 Periodical Cicada sightings’ page on You can zoom in on the maps and find public spaces (like parks) which you can visit to experience the event. You can report your sightings to these websites as well.

What’s that smell?
The one aspect of these cicadas that most cicada sites don’t discuss is the odor that their rotting corpses produce, to paraphrase John Cooley. Cicadas can get real funky, and by funky I don’t mean Parliament-Funkadelic funky, or even Red Hot Chilli Peppers funky — I mean “someone filled running sneakers with cheese and pork fried rice and left it in the trunk of their car in July” funky. Cicadas do stink, especially when their bodies pile up at the base of trees, and get soaked with rain, and then baked in the late-spring heat. They smell like a rotten pork roll, bacon, and cheese sandwich to me. They really do. They’re fleshy insects — get a pile of them together, and it’s just like having a rotten pile of meat and fat in your yard.

So what can you do about the funk? Clean up before they get funky. Be proactive. Just get a shovel and dispose of them with your garbage, bury them like a Soprano, or put them in your compost pile (they are very, very mineral-rich and will make great fertilizer for trees and shrubs). I don’t recommend burning them, and that might increase the stink, nor do I recommend grabbing handfuls of rotting, wet corpses and throwing them at your friends. Bad idea.

August 13, 2005

How to find and photograph cicadas at night

Filed under: FAQs — Dan @ 10:55 am

A tisket a tasket cicadas on a basket
Check your trees at night for molting cicadas.

Here are some tips for finding and photographing newly emerged cicadas at night:

  1. Look for cicadas on trees where you’ve heard cicadas during the day, or where you’ve seen cicada nymph exoskeletons.
  2. Cicada nymphs emerge from the ground shortly after dusk. You can start your hunt then.
  3. Carry a flashlight and your camera. As you approach a tree, shine the flashlight on the ground close to the tree. You don’t want to step on any of them!
  4. Scan the tree trunk and all the limbs with your flashlight. Once you spot one, get ready with your camera.
  5. If you don’t spot any cicadas after dusk, try a half hour later, and then a half an hour after that, up until 11 pm.
  6. Non-techie digital camera tips:
    1. Set the camera on auto or portrait (usually a picture of a profile).
    2. Set the focus on Macro (usually a picture of a tulip) or manual.
    3. Experiment with these settings.
  7. Don’t touch the cicadas: for the most natural photos, you don’t want them to be disturbed.

Good luck. I hope they’ll work for you!

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