Cicada

cicadaEvery season has its chorus—the thunder of a spring storm, the quiet chirp of songbirds on a still winter day,

the rustling of autumn leaves in a breeze, and of course the drone of cicadas during the dog days of summer.

Oklahoma is home to at least 12 species of cicadas. Each year they emerge from their underground hideouts, shed their skins, fly to the treetops, mate and then die. Differ­ent species have different life cycles. Most cicadas live under­ground for two to eight years, but Oklahoma is also home to a cicada that biologists call Brood IV, a species that has an impressive 17-year life cycle. Many researchers believe this gap between emergences keeps predators from growing accus­tomed to the plentiful food source that cicadas offer. North America is home to approxi­mately 100 species of the 1,500 known in the world.


With the exception of vary­ing life cycles, cicada species share many of the same characteristics, including habitat, feeding habits and breeding. The deafening call of the cicada is made only by the male and is used to attract females. The sound is created by rapid beating of wings against the cicada’s abdomen. Along the abdomen are organs called tympana, which act as drums and magnify the sound considerably. In fact, cicadas’ vocal­izations have been recorded as loud as 108 decibels (dB). After mating, the female cuts a slit in a small, tender branch in which she deposits anywhere from five to thirty eggs. A female may do this as many as twelve times on a single branch. The eggs will hatch in six to eight weeks, and the nymph cicadas will make their way to the open­ing in the branch. From there, they make their way to the ground and quickly seek out an opening in which to start their underground lives. Most cicadas will dig between two and 20 inches deep in their search for the grass and tree roots that will make up their diet for years to come.

The cicada uses a beak­like appendage to literally suck the nutrients it needs directly from a plant’s root system. The underground life of the cicada is not well-documented. Most researchers believe that the cicada goes through five cycles underground, each one marked by the molting of an out-grown skin.

The mature nymphs will emerge during warm sum­mer nights and seek out something solid to hold on to while they molt their last skin. This can be anything from a brick wall to a tree trunk. As it emerges from the hardened skin, the cicada is pale and soft. Its wings will take several hours to harden along with the rest of its body. By the time the cicada is ready to take to the air, its body will have the familiar green and black coloring. Look out for the cicada this summer when its music begins to play, and take a guess at how many years it spent underground waiting to play its song in Oklahoma.