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All About Cicadas

Buzzzz. The unrelenting noise creates a continuous pounding in your head. It abruptly halts, allowing for the long-awaited silence to prevail. However, shortly after, the next wave arrives and the singing persists, even louder this time. Cicadas. The red eyed grotesque creatures. What is their purpose? Why do they obnoxiously sing all day?

Let’s start with the basics. Cicadas are large insects with transparent wings. There are two types of cicadas; annual and periodical. Annuals appear every year while periodicals emerge every 13 to 17 years. Brood X (this year’s cycle) swarms the East, Upper Great West, and Great Plains. If you live in these regions, I am sure you have already noticed their presence; they aren’t the quiet type.

Image Credit: Sagar Vasnani

Cicadas have three stages in their life cycle; eggs, nymphs, and adults. Female cicadas lay their eggs inside branches of trees. When the nymphs turn 10 weeks old, they fall to the ground. After, they dig underground and attach themselves to tree roots, feeding on the sweet sap. It is no wonder why many consider these insects a delicacy! Depending on the type of cicada, these nymphs stay buried for 2-17 years. After this time passes, they emerge aboveground, becoming official adults.

Cicadas are the loudest insects on earth; their sounds can reach up to 100 decibels. This screeching noise is comparable to a lawn mower or low flying plane. They sing for two reasons; to attract a mate, and to fend off the birds. Males sing loudly to attract a female of their same brood (or same kind). In this mate hunt, may the loudest cicada win! The high-pitched singing is also a defense mechanism; the sound irritates birds. Luckily, their noise halts when it rains, when temperatures drop, and in the evening.

Many researchers have undergone studies to distinguish the difference between cicadas and locusts. Locusts, unlike cicadas, are forms of grasshoppers with lengthy legs. The primary difference is that locusts swarm in a pack (called plague) and savagely feed on crops, while cicadas are far less detrimental to the environment. Although they are ultimately unalike, cicadas and locusts do share various similarities; both have wings, lay eggs, and are noisy.

While the noise may seem unbearable, cicadas are not around for much longer. In fact, their lifespan is six weeks aboveground. Therefore, these rare creatures will die off by the end of June. Although the insects are an annoyance to many, their death is bittersweet; cicadas may only come a handful of times in one’s life. So appreciate the screeching while it lasts!


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