Joe Green sent us this video of a black window spider eating a cicada.
June 28, 2008
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.
Actual photo. Even with an open palm, they might take a taste!
Here is a video of a cicada that has confused my thumb for a juicy tree limb:
See if you can spot the cicadas’ sucker in this illustration:
Here’s a photo of a cicada’s mouth parts:
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, lawn mowers, weed whackers, leaf blowers, etc. in their presence. Cicadas think the sound 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.
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, 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 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:
- Molecular and Topographical Organization: Influence on Cicada Wing Wettability and Bactericidal Properties
- Gold coated Cicada wings: Anti-reflective micro-environment for plasmonic enhancement of fluorescence from upconversion nanoparticles.
- Oxygen/phosphorus co-doped porous carbon from cicada slough as high-performance electrode material for supercapacitors
- Cicada slough-derived heteroatom incorporated porous carbon for supercapacitor: Ultra-high gravimetric capacitance
- Gradient wetting state on cicada wing surface and rapid fabrication of its nanostructure with hydrophobicity and antireflectivity on polystyrene surface.
- Extraction of high thermally stable and nanofibrous chitin from Cicada (Cicadoidea).
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 18, 2008
High-res versions of Roy Troutman’s marble-eyed cicada photos. Fascinating. You can see a color variation in all 5 eyes!
Lisa from East End of Louisville, KY let us know that silence has returned to her area. I’m sure the same is true of the southern areas of the emergence.
Don’t forget to get a t-shirt, mug, stein, button or throw pillow to remember the experience.
June 17, 2008
No one did, but this is what Brian Oliva of Milford, Ohio finds in his pool filter every day.
Roy has obtained another marble-eyed 17 year cicada found by Mike & Reed Finfrock of West Chester, Ohio.
White eyes are unique, maybe one in 100,000, but these marble eyed cicadas seem to be even more rare. They look like the red was torn away, revealing the gray below (like something you would see on a blinged out Honda Civic or an 80’s metal guitar).
June 13, 2008
A Cicada wreath constructed in 2004 by Jenny Pate:
I think it’s awesome! Thanks to Jenny’s husband Bill for sharing.
Anyone else have an example of cicada arts & crafts to share?
June 12, 2008
Here’s something that’s truly amazing — a 17 year cicada with marble-colored eyes. White eyed cicadas are rare — but a mixed color eye cicada is amazing. Roy and the person how found the cicada should go play the lottery tonight, because luck is on their side.
June 10, 2008
Cicada experts: can you identify this cicada? Hint: although it has white eyes, it is not a 17 year cicada. These photos were take by John Beard in Atascosa County, TX. BTW, is the black spot in the middle of the eye technically considered a pupil? Let us know.