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Cicadas

An adult cicada on our property on 5/15/04.

Last Updated: 11/1/13

I am not an expert on cicadas. Most of the information on this page has come from reading various newspaper articles, watching TV segments, and from experiencing the cicadas myself.

Introduction
The Invasion
Cicada Photos
Cicada Links


Introduction

This comes from my May 2004 Pond Newsletter:

The following was written in the spring of 2004.

Something amazing is about to happen here in the Mid-Atlantic US. In 1902, 1919, 1936, 1953, 1970, 1987, and now 2004, for the months of May to June, no opossum, skunk, raccoon, fox, dog, chicken, or teenage boy who has access to the outdoors in the Eastern USA is going to starve to death. The largest mass emergence of insects on the planet is occurring as Generation X of the periodical cicada comes out of the ground. Every year, a cicada or two makes a racket around our woods, and someone may ask, "What's making that noise?" This year, there will no question. No question as there should be up to 100,000 cicadas per ACRE in wooded areas. (Some sources say a million per acre!) With males singing, in our neighborhood alone, that's over 3 million boys, each one making a noise louder than a rock concert. The cicadas have already made themselves known where I live. When putting down some wire around the chicken pen on 4/21/04 to protect them from foxes, I pulled up a few stepping stones. Under each square foot stone was 3 to 6 holes with cicada "babies" looking out. They may be sub-adults but they have been feeding underground sucking on plant roots for 17 years! I tossed a few to the chickens. They thought they were the best thing on the planet. Since the insects cannot bite or sting, they have no defenses. Any animal that includes insects in its diet will gorge on them, sometimes until they vomit. So many are waiting to come up that the raccoon has not waited. Each night, he defecates in my pond (gee thanks!) or on the net I put over part of it to keep the heron out. On 4/25/04, I noticed the feces contained almost all cicada exoskeletons. On repotting my water lily that day, I had to dig up some dirt. I ended up with another dozen cicada larvae. Again, the chickens got a few. Somehow I can't bring myself to eat one but, who knows, one might just fly in to my mouth next month; they'll be that thick. If you don't live where you can experience this, maybe you should pay a visit to the Eastern US and experience one of the wonders of the world! Just don't forget your ear plugs! And you were worried about the neighbors hearing all your poor frogs and toads calling! I wonder if the pond fish will eat the cicadas! When they die after a month, I have a feeling I'll be netting out a lot of cicada bodies. I'll have to report back!

Update: 10/16/13 - In re-reading the above, I just wanted to note that I didn't find cidada bodies in the pond! In fact, there were few bodies. I think most were eaten.


The Invasion

The following is from a posting to my Fishpondinfo Message Board on 5/16/04 that I made:

The invasion has begun here this morning! I live in Central Maryland. The first batch came out under a few of our trees that get a little more sun than the others. A few hundred were on the grass around the base of those trees. They kept saying to look at the trunks but that's not where they were. When I told my mother, she came over and said, "Oh, they're so cute! Hi babies!" Not the typical female response! They don't bother me but, on some level, that many of them gives me the willies. A squirrel came over and ate a dozen or so, great fun for him. They had flown off into the tree tops by lunch. Many more should come out when the more shady areas of our land warm up in a few days. I might give some to the lizard. The chickens and raccoons (who dug pits under our oldest tree and left cicada-shell excrement in my pond) have already eaten some larval cicadas from the ground (I gave one to my lizard too). When digging around the last month, I've been unearthing a lot of them, 1-6 per square foot. This morning, in the distance, was a noise like an alien ship coming to get us. It was cicadas in a patch of warmer woods a ways away. So, I saw my first adult cicadas this year this morning. I don't know how thick they will get or how many will end up in the pond for example. I think my koi and orfe are large enough that they'd try to eat them if they did.

Another posting of mine on the forum on 5/17/04:

I haven't stepped on one yet as they've only come out in a few places and only a few in the mowed areas. I'm sure I will step on one in the next few months though! I fed one white one to my lizard and one black one to my chicken. They molt and come out white and turn black over an hour or so. While white, they are soft and can't fly. The one I gave to my hen on the perch flew down, and the rooster grabbed it. He clucked and dropped it a few times but held it for the hen to come down and get it. We don't have that many yet and may not get as many as our woods are mostly 27 years old so were only 10 years old 17 years ago. We do have one older tree though where the raccoon dug pits but none have come up there yet.

Update found only here! :-)

It is 5/20/04. The cicadas are everywhere! They come out overnight and go into the tall grass, weeds, bottom canopies of the trees, and well everywhere. By dawn when I am outside, most are already black but I find a few white ones left. The calling is getting closer but not here yet!

One thing of note. Some sources said cicadas have no mouths, and I started telling people this but it made no sense. How could they live 6 weeks? Then, another site showed them "feeding." Well, once I had real live ones to examine, I found out why there is confusion. They do not have a mouth that can chew but they do have a probosis that is about an inch long which they can presumably jam into a tree to suck up some sap without harming the tree. Hence, that explains how they live so long without "mouths" and continue to grow. Some sites still say cicadas do not feed but the more extensive scientific sites say they do and show them doing it. Having seen the probosis, I know it is used for something!

There are three species of 17-year periodical cicadas. Each looks and sounds different. One sounds like an alien ship. Another sounds like someone shaking a few hundred metal cans with pennies in them.

By 5/25/04 or so, the cicadas are as loud as ever! Dead ones are starting to appear all over. They are starting to stink. I was surprised that a good 20% of the emerging cicadas died while trying to come out. They got their heads out and then their bodies hardened before they could get all the way out. The ants feasted on those. Also, many were deformed (not from predation) with abnormal wings and such. They are all over!

Here are some decibel reading comparisons: jackhammer = 90; cicada = 90-100; motorcyle = 100; rock concert = 120; jet engine = 140. Now, imagine being surrounded by jackhammers! That is how it is except it sounds like space ships (one species) and bzzzzz (another species).

On 5/27/04, I saw my first mating pair of cicadas. Now, I see many! Many more are dying already. The rest only have one thing on their mind as their lives wind down. Oh, and I AM stepping on plenty of them now but most are dead or dying! Many live ones have died from my car though.

As of 6/16/04, just a few cicadas are hanging around, feebly calling. Most are gone. I read on a web site (the second one under links) about cicadas getting a fungus. Their butts fall off and fungal spores come out. I had never noticed this before. I read about it on 6/14/04. On 6/15/04, I noticed ones like that were all over! How come I never saw these before! They are gross with the poor live cicadas wiggling around with no rear to speak of! I picked some up and white spores came out. Cicadas do not bother me but this was yucky!!


Cicada Photos

Here are photos that I took of cicadas on our property.

A larval cicada right side up - 5/5/04
A larval cicada upside down - 5/5/04, alas, this same cicada was soon eaten by my lizard, Einstein.
A close-up of an empty exoskeleton of a "baby" cicada - 5/5/04
A bunch of cicadas in the grass - 5/15/04
Close-up of a bunch of cicadas - 5/15/04
A close-up of a single adult cicada - 5/15/04
A cicada with a dragonfly - 5/29/04; the dragonfly, a male blue dasher, was dead so I took a photo for my site and put the cicada in since they were all over.
A cicada with a dragonfly - 5/29/04; the dragonfly, a female twelve-spotted skimmer, was dead so I took a photo for my site and put the cicada in since they were all over. This is the same cicada as in the last photo.

In addition to the 17-year cicadas, we get other cicadas every year. Here is a photo of a green cicada from 7/11/10:
Green cicada


Cicada Links

Cicadas.info - Maryland-based cicada information site

Periodical Cicada Page - lots of scientific stuff; this is probably the best site I have seen! If you're interested in cicadas, be sure to check it out!

Smithsonian Cicada Page - includes lots of great photos

Cicada Invasion - National Geographic site.

Cicadaville.com - this is a joke site that makes fun of how afraid some people are of cicadas; nothing on the site is true! It is good for a laugh! This is an archived version of the site as it no longer exists.

Cicada Mania

Songs of Insects - singing crickets, katydids, and cicadas.

Wow! Just do a search for "periodical cicada" and get 18,000 hits! I am NOT going to list them all here!


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