Cicadas have a broad, flattened body and
two pairs of large wings with characteristic
pattern of veins. The longitudinal veins do not
extend to the edge of the wing but stop short of
it, leaving a narrow, uninterrupted margin along
the outer border of each wing. The wings are
usually transparent, but those of some species
are colored and patterned, and when at rest they
are folded over the body like a roof.
Some cicadas are among the
biggest of all insects and most are quite large.
Although the average body length is 1 to 2
inches, the Malaysian empress cicada (Pomponia
imperatoria) has a wingspan of 8 inches.
More than 1,500 species of cicada are known
throughout the world. They are mainly tropical,
extending into the temperate regions in small
numbers. A few species occur in southern Europe,
and about 75 occur in North America.
Eggs are laid in slits in the
twigs of trees. Nymphs fall to the ground after
hatching several weeks later, and then dig down
with their broad, powerful front legs and
disappear underground. They will spend the
majority of their lives in a burrows that may
anywhere from several inches to a few feet
underground, depending on the nymphal stage and
nature of the soil.
The duration of the nymphal
stage varies by species. Among the longest-living
of all insects, many cicada nymphs take 2 to 5
years to develop into an adult, while still
others spend 17 years in the nymphal stage. When
ready to mature, the nymph digs its way up to the
surface and climbs the nearest tree, where it
rests before shedding its skin and emerging as an
adult cicada. Despite their long lives as nymphs,
however, adult cicadas only live 6 to 10 weeks,
time they spend eating and mating.
Cicadas belong to an order of
insects with piercing and sucking mouthparts.
Adults feed on the sap of plant stems and
succulent shoots, while nymphs extract sap from
roots. The specific types of plants fed upon
varies by species and location.
Habits and Behaviors
Adult cicadas spend most of
their time sitting high up on the trunks of
trees, or among the branches and foliage. When
approached they will usually fly off quickly.
Their flight is fast and powerful.
All species of cicada
"sing," and every species has its own
distinct song. Although singing is exclusive to
males in most species, there are a few species in
which the females also sing. Both sexes have
hearing organs, and all cicadas can recognize the
song of their species. Some cicadas sing during
the day, others only at dusk or dawn; some sing
intermittently, while others may sing for
extended periods of time. The purpose of the
cicada's song is probably to call the local
population of a species together for mating
singing apparatus consists of a pair of membranes
at the base of the abdomen, each surrounded and
held by a stiffly elastic ring. The membrane is
convex when relaxed, but a muscle attached to it
can pull it down and allow it to pop back. The
membranes, known as tymbals, oscillate
at a rate of 100 to 500 times per second. Other
muscles attached to elastic ring distort the
ring's shape, affecting the volume and quality of
the sound produced. The whole apparatus is
enclosed in a pair of resonating chambers which
amplify the sound and vary it by opening and
Left: 1) Cicade underside
showing the sound-boxes, which are covered by a
protective plate (operculum). 2) The
cicada's muscular attachment, showing the
tymbal's position in the air cavity which helps
amplify the sound. 3) A cross-section through the
thorax shows the powerful muscles attached to the
tymbal sound-boxes, which have concave inner
Right: How the pulsing
tymbal muscle repeatedly distorts the abdominal
wall and allows it to snap back producing the
Maurice Burton and Robert Burton Funk
& Wagnalls Wildlife Encyclopedia.
New York: Funk & Wagnalls, Inc., 1974
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