On The Wild Side: Now is the time for local cicadas to start making some noise

Photo above shows a fully emerged cicada and the shell it emerged from. Photo by Ann Brokelman.


Happy September, everyone. I hope you’re enjoying the heat, the mix of rain and sun, and the decreasing numbers of mosquitos.

Have you been outside and noticed that odd, incessant, high-pitched hum in the background? Depending on how close you are to it, it might be as faint as the buzz coming from an incandescent lightbulb, or it could be as loud as a chainsaw. Have you wondered what’s causing that noise, especially after it’s been going on for a few hours? Its our local population of cicadas.

Around this time of year, cicadas emerge from underground, where they have been hiding and growing for a few years, crawl onto a fence post, the side of your house, a tree, or something similar and molt, emerging into their final form.

I was lucky to catch one molting just the other day. It only took a few minutes, but I was able to take a few dozen (maybe a few hundred) photos of the process. When the old shell, still stuck to the tree, split open to let the new bug emerge, it looked like something out of a Halloween horror movie.

However, the cicada that emerged was a fabulous mix of pink and green with beautiful, translucent wings.

A cicada’s wings emerge as it molts from its old shell on a tree. Photo by Ann Brokelman.

Admittedly, while cicadas won’t be competing with butterflies or ladybugs in an insect beauty/popularity contest anytime soon, they are gorgeous in their own, special, way. Did you know they can get as loud as 120 decibels? That’s a volume like a thunderclap.

So, what are cicadas? Bug? Insect? Alien?

They belong to a family of 80,000 different insects of the order Hemiptera, which include aphids, stink bugs, and bed bugs. (Not the most desirable family reunion to attend) There are over 2,000 types of cicadas around the world, and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

What do they eat? I had no idea until I started writing this article. As it turns out, while they have big appetites, they only consume plants. They have a beak like tube, called a labium, which extends from their face, which allows them to pierce the outer layer (epidermis) of a plant and suck up the fluids inside. Whenever they aren’t eating, the labium is hidden inside their head.

Here is a cool fact that I truly hope you never need: Cicadas are a great source of nutrition. If you found yourself lost in the forest and truly starving, these bugs would be quite safe to eat. The internet tells me they have a nutty flavour, a shrimp-like texture, and are best eaten right after they molt. I’m going to trust the web and not test it for myself, but please feel free to send me a message if you can confirm/refute this fact.

Cicadas have a long lifespan, for insects, living normally for two to five years. Some have been known to live for almost 20 years, (though most of that is spent underground). The female will lay between 200-400 eggs, usually in a tree, and then die shortly thereafter. When the nymph’s hatch they fall to the ground, dig into the soil, and stay down there until fully grown.

Once they join us above ground, they only live for a few weeks before they are ready to lay the next batch of eggs. One final fact: the males are the ones to make all that ruckus, which continues until a female finally agrees to mate with them. Once… satisfied… the male realizes that he may soon have to take care of several hundred children and chooses death instead.

If you come across one of these remarkable creatures, or find one of their molted shells, please take a few photos and send them to me.

Don’t be surprised if it’s a challenging hunt though.Noisy as they are, they are often hard to find. Happy searching!

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Wonderful article. I could become a fan of cicadas. Ann, you really have a way of describing what is out there in nature. Thank you.

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