Stock Insect Photographs

Periodical Cicadas (Magicicada Species)

Also Known Incorrectly as Locusts

The insect Magicicada species, also knows as Periodical Cicadas, are members of the insect Family Cicadidae that spend time in the soil eating sap from tree roots and then emerge in mass every 13 or 17 years, depending on what brood they are from, to lay eggs. These insects are also commonly known as locusts but this terminology is incorrect. Locusts are hopping insects and Periodical Cicadas do not hop.

My first hint that something was different about that spring in 1999 in Washington, PA was seeing several strange insects climbing plants one morning. The nymphs generally climb plants at night to molt and by morning are transformed into flying insects. Some apparently have their timing off which is why I saw a few in the morning.

They spend their brief lives mating, laying eggs and making a bunch of noise. The buzzing starts with a few insects, is quickly joined by many more, builds to a crescendo and then dies away only to be rapidly repeated. Fortunately they become quiet at night. My dog liked them. He would go from plant to plant each morning pulling them off to eat. Some people eat these insects as well but that is something I havenít tried.

There are other insects in the Family Cicadidae that have a somewhat similar appearance and make a similar noise. Only a relatively few of these hatch in a given year though so the buzzing sound is limited to a few individuals in a given geographic location. The next really noisy summer in Washington, PA should come in 2012 or 2016 depending on whether it was a 13 year or 17 year brood that hatched in 1999.

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The nymph of a Periodical Cicada climbs a tree at night after
spending years in the ground. Just in front of it is the
discarded exoskeleton of a nymph that has already molted.

A Periodical Cicada nymph molts, coming out of its exoskeleton
with wings that must expand and dry over several hours.

A Periodical Cicada hanging upside down while its wings expand
and dry.

A Periodical Cicada hanging on its abandoned exoskeleton
while its wings complete the drying process.

A fully developed Periodical Cicada on a flower making a lot of

A Periodical Cicada on a broken twig. Small linear scars can be
seen on the twig from the cicadaís egg laying. Eventually the end
of the twig breaks off and falls to the ground.

The tiny white oblong glistening objects on the penny are cicada eggs.
The linear scars from egg laying can be seen on the twig by the penny.

A small tree that has been damaged by Periodical Cicadas. The ends
the smaller branches have broken and died and will eventually fall to
the ground. Initially it doesnít look like the cicadas are doing much
damage but they are to smaller trees and shrubs. Larger plants arenít
hurt much by the loss of a relatively few ends of their branches. The
cicadas didnít molest my white pine trees.

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© Martin J. Lohne 2005. Revised 11/18/05.