Spring 2013 Discovery Pages – Cicadas!


Click here for instructions on how to make your own cicada summer songster!

Cicada: Songster of Summer

By Beth Sanders, NSCNA Director of Education, with additional research by Hannah Kubach and Amber Woltz

Cicadas belong to a group of insects called Hemiptera, which are often referred to as “true bugs” and are characterized by a moving beak-like mouth part, called a “labium”. Cicadas use their labium to pierce the flesh of plants in order to reach the sap inside, which is their main food source. Additionally, cicadas are physically described as having stout bodies, broad heads, large, wide-set compound eyes (most often red), six legs, four wings, two antennae, and three often overlooked smaller eyes on top of their heads, called “ocelli”. The wide-set eyes allow for excellent peripheral vision, while the ocelli allow cicadas to detect predators from above.

The nearly 3,000 different cicada species are divided into two groups—annual cicadas and periodical cicadas. In Pennsylvania, periodical cicadas take 17 years to reach maturity and populations of cicadas are referred to as “broods”. This year (2013), Dauphin County will see Brood II (East Coast Brood), with an additional seven species of annual cicadas present from early June until Mid-October.

Perhaps best known for their summer time sounds, cicadas produce a series of buzzing, clicking and humming noises in their “tymbal”, which is a drum-like organ located in the abdominal region of their exoskeleton. Males “sing” not only to attract a mate, but also to ward off potential predators. Cicadas not only add to the soundtrack of summer, but they also perform vital roles in our environment, most importantly as an important source of food for many predators.


  •  Cicadas and Locusts are commonly mistaken as being the same insect. However, locusts are in the grasshopper family, and can be quite destructive to plants, while cicadas are most similar to leafhoppers, and are generally not destructive to plants, despite being sap-suckers.
  •  Cicadas have two sets of wings– longer, transparent wings are on the top, with opaque hind-wings underneath. These wings are reinforced with a sturdy network of veins.
  • Despite having four wings, cicadas are not good fliers, and are often called clumsy, as they tend to fly into other objects.
  • Mature cicada nymphs crawl to the surface of the soil around April, but may not emerge until May or June, at which point they find shelter on a tree or plant and shed their soft nymph skin, and begin developing a hard exoskeleton.

    Cicada nymph

    Cicada nymph

  • Adult cicadas live 3-4 weeks above ground, during which they mate and female cicadas lay 400-600 eggs in the twigs of surrounding trees and shrubs.
  • The eggs hatch 4-6 weeks later and the larvae will burrow 2-24” beneath the soil, where they develop for up to 17 years.
  •  Periodical cicadas will be present in Dauphin County in 2017 (Brood VI) and 2021 (Brood X, Great Eastern Brood).
  • A cicada’s tune often reaches deafening decibels, in excess of 90 decibels, which is comparable to that of a blender of large truck. Cicadas will often sing together in order to amplify the noise and ward off predators, particularly birds.
  • Cicadas have membranes over their ears called “tympanas”, which protect them from the volume of their own song.
  •  In Japan, cicadas are considered a sign of rebirth and new life.
  • Female cicadas are considered a delicacy in many countries, including Australia, Thailand and Japan

Click here for instructions on how to make your own Summer Cicada Songster!

Good Books About Cicadas

  • Cicadas! Strange and Wonderful by Larry Pringle
  • Cicadas by Helen Frost
  • Cicadas by Margaret Hall
  • Cicadas (True Books) by Ann O. Squire
  • Cicada: Exotic View by Davy Shian
  • Cecily Cicada by Kita Helmetag Murdock and Patsy Helmetag
  • When the Woods Hum by Joanne Ryder
  • The Life Cycle of Cicada (Things with Wings) by JoAnn Early Macken
  • Cicada Sing-Song by Densey Clyne


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