Periodical Cicadas

May 13, 2011

Bug-eyed monster movie coming now to a city near you!  No wait, this isn’t a “B” rated movie, this is the real deal!  And these bug-eyed monsters might be in YOUR area NOW!!!

They’re called Periodical Cicadas.  They belong to the order Hemiptera, suborder Homoptera and family Cicadidae.  In this part of the world, they belong to the genus Magicicada.

They are emerging this year, 2011, in these areas of the midwest and southeastern United States:


See the dots? If you live there... they're coming!

How will you know if they are in your area? All you have to do is LISTEN. The males make a distinctive sound by flexing their tymbals, which are drum-like organs found on their abdomens.   How does this work? 

They contract their internal tymbal muscles and that produces a clicking sound as the tymbals buckle inwards. When the muscles relax, the tymbals return to their original position producing another click. The interior of the male abdomen is substantially hollow to amplify the resonance of the sound.

Once a lot of them have emerged, the sound can get pretty loud out there! Here’s a sample of the cicadas noise, so you can hear what they sound like.  (Once you click on ‘cicadas noise’, a player should open in a new window.)

No wonder their name, cicada, is derived from the Latin word for “buzzer”!

All That Remains

If you can’t hear, you can see clues they are emerging.  Look for the remains!  In this case, the empty shells, or exoskeleten they leave behind.

picture of cicada exoskeletons

A pair of exoskeletons

Here’s a close-up of one:

picture of cicada shell

An empty shell is all that remains.

The empty shells are all over the place, but what about the adults?

picture of Magicicada cicada adult

Periodic Cicada (Magicicada genus)


picture of periodic cicada

Another Periodic Cicada 'Bug-Eyed Monster'

Yes, they’re all over the place too!

These periodical cicadas are also known as “17-year locusts” although they’re not really locusts, and they also come in a 13-year cycle variety.

And although there are a lot of them at once, and that might look intimidating, they are actually harmless insects.  Cicadas don’t bite or sting. They are not venomous, and there is no evidence that they transmit diseases.

Cicadas generally do not pose a threat to vegetation, However, young plants may be damaged by excessive feeding or egg laying.  For that reason, it’s better not to plant new trees or shrubs just before an emergence of the periodical cicadas to be on the safe side.  Mature plants usually do not suffer lasting damage even from a mass emergence.

And if you’re hungry, lots of people think cicadas are a tasty treat.  Especially the females, as they’re meatier.

Yum, yum.  Anybody got recipes?

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