|Annual cicada, Tibicen linnei|
|Calling song of Magicicada cassini|
Cicadas (// or //), alternatively spelled as Cicala, or Cicale, are insects in the order Hemiptera, suborder Auchenorrhyncha (which was formerly included in the now invalid suborder Homoptera). Cicadas are in the superfamily Cicadoidea. Their eyes are prominent, though not especially large, and set wide apart on the anterior lateral corners of the frons. The wings are well-developed, with conspicuous veins; in some species the wing membranes are wholly transparent, whereas in many others the proximal parts of the wings are clouded or opaque and some have no significantly clear areas on their wings at all. About 2,500 species of cicada have been described, and many remain to be described. Cicadas live in temperate-to-tropical climates where they are among the most-widely recognized of all insects, mainly due to their large size and unique sound. Cicadas are often colloquially called locusts, although they are unrelated to true locusts, which are various species of swarming grasshopper. Cicadas are related to leafhoppers and spittlebugs.
Cicadas are benign to humans under normal circumstances and do not bite or sting in a true sense, but may mistake a person's arm or other part of their body for a tree or plant limb and attempt to feed. Cicadas have a long proboscis, under their head, which they insert into plant stems in order to feed on sap. It can be painful if they attempt to pierce a person's skin with it, but it is unlikely to cause other harm. It is unlikely to be a defensive reaction and is a rare occurrence. It usually only happens when they are allowed to rest on a person's body for an extended amount of time.
Many people around the world regularly eat cicadas. They are known to have been eaten in Ancient Greece as well as China, Malaysia, Burma, Latin America, and the Congo. Female cicadas are prized for being meatier. Shells of cicadas are employed in the traditional medicines of China.
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The name is a direct derivation of the Latin cicada, meaning "tree cricket". There is no word of proper English, or indeed Germanic, etymology for the insect. In ancient Greek, it was called a tettix, and in modern Greek tzitzikas—both names being onomatopoeic.
Cicadas are arranged into two families: Tettigarctidae (q.v.) and Cicadidae. There are two extant species of Tettigarctidae, one in southern Australia, and the other in Tasmania. The family Cicadidae is subdivided into the subfamilies Tettigadinae, Cicadinae, and Cicadettinae, and they exist on all continents except Antarctica. Some previous works also included a family-level taxon called the Tibiceninae.
There are some 200 species in 38 genera in Australia, about 450 in Africa, about 100 in the Palaearctic, and only one species in England, the New Forest cicada, Melampsalta montana, widely distributed throughout Europe. There are about 150 species in South Africa.
Most of the North American species are in the genus Tibicen: the annual or jar fly or dog-day cicadas (so named because they emerge in late July and August).  The best-known North American genus is Magicicada, however. These periodical cicadas have an extremely long life cycle of 13 to 17 years and emerge in large numbers. Another American species is the Apache cicada, Diceroprocta apache.
Australian cicadas differ from many other types because of that continent's diversity of climate and terrain. In Australia, cicadas are found on tropical islands and cold coastal beaches around Tasmania; in tropical wetlands; high and low deserts; alpine areas of New South Wales and Victoria; large cities like Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane; and Tasmanian highlands and snowfields.
Forty-two species from five genera populate New Zealand, and all are endemic to New Zealand and the surrounding islands (Norfolk Island, New Caledonia). Many New Zealand cicada species differ from those of other countries by being found high up on mountain tops.
The adult insect, known as an imago, is 2 to 5 centimetres (0.79–2.0 in) in total length in most species, although the largest, Pomponia (Megapomponia) imperatoria, has a head-body length of about 7 centimetres (2.8 in) and its wingspan is 18 to 20 centimetres (7–8 in). Cicadas have prominent eyes set wide apart on the sides of the head, short antennae protruding between or in front of the eyes, and membranous front wings. Also, commonly overlooked, cicadas have three small eyes, or ocelli, located on the top of the head between the two large eyes that match the colour of the large eyes.
Physiology and adaptations
Some species of desert cicadas such as Diceroprocta apache are unusual among insects in that they have been shown to cool themselves by evaporative cooling, analogous to sweating in mammals. When their temperature rises above about 39 °C (102 °F) they suck excess sap from the food plants and extrude the excess water through pores in the tergum, at a modest cost in energy. Such a rapid loss of water can only be sustained by feeding on water rich xylem sap. At lower temperatures, feeding cicadas would normally need to excrete the excess water. By evaporative cooling desert cicadas can reduce their bodily temperature by some 5°C (9°F).
Some non-desert cicada species such as Magicicada tredecem also cool themselves by such a mechanism, but less dramatically.
Conversely, many other cicadas can voluntarily raise their body temperatures as much as 22°C (39.6°F) above ambient temperature.
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Male cicadas have loud noisemakers called "tymbals" on the sides of the abdominal base. Their "singing" is not the stridulation (where one structure is rubbed against another) of many other familiar sound-producing insects like crickets: the tymbals are regions of the exoskeleton that are modified to form a complex membrane with thin, membranous portions and thickened "ribs". Contracting the internal tymbal muscles produces a clicking sound as the tymbals buckle inwards. As these muscles relax, the tymbals return to their original position producing another click. The interior of the male abdomen is substantially hollow to amplify the resonance of the sound. A cicada rapidly vibrates these membranes, and enlarged chambers derived from the tracheae make its body serve as a resonance chamber, greatly amplifying the sound. The cicada modulates the sound by positioning its abdomen toward or away from the substrate. Additionally, each species has its own distinctive "song".
Average temperature of the natural habitat for the South American species Fidicina rana is approximately 29 °C (84 °F). During sound production, the temperature of the tymbal muscles was found to be significantly higher. Cicadas sing most actively in hot weather and do their most spirited singing during the hotter hours of a summer day, in a roughly 24 hour cycle.
Although only males produce the cicadas' distinctive sound, both sexes have tympana, which are membranous structures used to detect sounds and thus the cicadas' equivalent of ears. Males can disable their own tympana while calling.
Some cicadas produce sounds up to 120 dB (SPL), among the loudest of all insect-produced sounds. This is especially notable as their song is technically loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans, should the cicada sing just outside the listener's ear. Conversely, some small species have songs so high in pitch that the noise is inaudible to humans. Species have different mating songs to ensure they attract the appropriate mate. It can be difficult to determine from which direction(s) a cicada song is coming, because the low pitch carries well and because it may, in fact, be coming from many directions at once, as cicadas in various trees may make noise in unison.
In addition to the mating song, many species also have a distinct distress call, usually a somewhat broken and erratic sound emitted when an individual is seized. A number of species also have a courtship song, which is often a quieter call and is produced after a female has been drawn by the calling song.
Cicadas live underground as nymphs for most of their lives, at depths ranging from about 30 centimetres (0.98 ft) down to 2.5 metres (8.2 ft). The nymphs feed on root juice and have strong front legs for digging.
In the final nymphal instar, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then molt (shed their skins) on a nearby plant for the last time and emerge as adults. The abandoned exoskeleton remains, still clinging to the bark of trees.
Cicada nymphs suck sap from the xylem of various species of tree, including oak, cypress, willow, ash, and maple. While it is common folklore that adults do not eat, in reality they do have their own sucking mouthparts, and also drink plant sap.
After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig, and into these she deposits her eggs. She may do so repeatedly, until she has laid several hundred eggs. When the eggs hatch, the newly hatched nymphs drop to the ground, where they burrow. Most cicadas go through a life cycle that lasts from two to five years. Some species have much longer life cycles, such as the North American genus, Magicicada, which has a number of distinct "broods" that go through either a 17-year or, in some parts of the world, a 13-year life cycle. These long life cycles perhaps developed as a response to predators, such as the cicada killer wasp and praying mantis. A predator with a shorter life cycle of at least two years could not reliably prey upon the cicadas.
Cicadas are commonly eaten by birds, and sometimes by squirrels, but Massospora cicadina (a fungal disease) is the biggest enemy of cicadas. Another known predator is the cicada killer wasp. In eastern Australia, the native freshwater fish Australian bass are keen predators of cicadas that crash-land on the surface of streams.
Some species of cicada also have an unusual defense mechanism to protect themselves from predation, known as predator satiation: because so many emerge at once, the number of cicadas in any given area exceeds the amount predators can eat; all available predators are thus satiated, and the remaining cicadas can breed in peace.
Cicadas in Australia
Around 220 cicada species have been identified in Australia, many of which go by common names such as: cherry nose, brown baker, red eye (Psaltoda moerens), green grocer/green Monday, yellow Monday, whisky drinker, double drummer (Thopha saccata), and black prince. The Australian green grocer, Cyclochila australasiae, is among the loudest insects in the world.
Being principally tropical insects, most Australian species are found in the northern states. However, cicadas occur in almost every part of Australia: the hot wet tropical north; Tasmanian snowfields; Victorian beaches and sand dunes such as Torquay and deserts. Some species, such as the Green Grocer, are not restricted to coastal or desert zones in Victoria. Each year for a period of a few weeks, an astonishing number of newly mature Green Grocer Cicadas emerge from the ground. Their numbers, combined with the ear shattering noise produced by a single adult male, are sufficient to make their entrance throughout suburbia absolutely unmistakable and 'Cicada Season' as some Victorian residents know this time, is clearly noticeable even in central business district areas of major cities such as Bendigo and Melbourne where this species flourish. According to Max Moulds of the Australian Museum in Sydney, "the 'green grocer' is unusual in its ability to adapt perfectly to the urbanized environment." Cicada sounds are a defining quality of Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra during late spring and the summer months.
Cicadas inhabit both native and exotic plants, including tall trees, coastal mangroves, suburban lawns, and desert shrubbery. The great variety of flora and climatic variation found in north-eastern Queensland results in its being the richest region for the spread of different species. The area of greatest species diversity is a 100 km (60 mi) wide region around Cairns. In some areas, they are preyed on by the cicada killer wasp (Exeirus lateritius), which stings and stuns cicadas high in the trees, making them drop to the ground where the cicada-hunter mounts and carries them, pushing with its hind legs, sometimes over a distance of a hundred meters, until they can be shoved down into its burrow, where the numb cicada is placed onto one of many shelves in a 'catacomb', to form the food-stock for the wasp grub that grows out of the egg deposited there.
In the Ancient Greek myth, Tithonus eventually turns into a cicada after being granted immortality, but not eternal youth, by Zeus. The Greeks also used a cicada sitting on a harp as emblematic of music.
The cicada has represented insouciance since classical antiquity. Jean de La Fontaine began his collection of fables Les fables de La Fontaine with the story La Cigale et la Fourmi (The Cicada and the Ant) based on one of Aesop's fables: in it the cicada spends the summer singing while the ant stores away food, and finds herself without food when the weather turns bitter.
In Japan, the cicada is associated with the summer season. The songs of the cicada are often used in Japanese film and television to indicate the scene is taking place in the summer. The song of Meimuna opalifera, called "tsuku-tsuku boshi", is said to indicate the end of summer, and it is called so because of its particular call. During the summer, it is a pastime for children to collect both cicadas and the shells left behind when moulting.
Since the cicada emerges from the ground to sing every summer, in Japan it is seen as a symbol of reincarnation. Of special importance is the fact that the cicada moults, leaving behind an empty shell. But furthermore, since the cicada only lives for the short period of time long enough to attract a mate with its song and complete the process of fertilization, they are seen as a symbol of evanescence.
In the Japanese novel The Tale of Genji, the title character poetically likens one of his many love interests to a cicada for the way she delicately sheds her scarf the way a cicada sheds its shell when molting. A cicada shell also plays a role in the manga Winter Cicada. They are also a frequent subject of haiku, wherein, depending on type, they can indicate spring, summer, or fall. Also, in the series Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, the cicada (or higurashi) song is a major motif.
In China, the phrase "to shed off the golden cicada skin"(金蝉脱壳, pinyin: jīnchán tuōqiào) is the poetic name of the tactic of using deception to escape danger, specifically of using decoys (leaving the old shell) to fool enemies. It became one of the 36 classic Chinese strategems. In the Chinese classic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (14th Century), Diaochan also got her name from the sable (diāo) tails and jade decorations in the shape of cicadas (chán), which at the time adorned the hats of high-level officials. In the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West (16th Century), the protagonist Priest of Tang was named the Golden Cicada; in this context the multiple shedding of shell of the cicada symbolizes the many stages of transformation required of a person before all illusions have been broken and one reaches enlightenment. This is also referred to in Japanese mythical ninja lore, as the technique of utsusemi (i.e., literally cicada), where ninjas would trick opponents into attacking a decoy.
Javanese version of cycle of months, called pranata mangsa, uses cicadas sound as an indicator of the beginning of dry season (April–May). Farmers who still depend on rain irrigation will interpret this as time for planting of non-rice crops.
Cicadas play a major role in the short story collection, The Society On Da Run: Dragons and Cicadas. They are sacred to dragons and are worshipped as gods.
In Mexico, the mariachi song "La Cigarra" (lit. "The Cicada") romanticises the insect as a creature that sings until it dies.
In 2004, "cicada" ranked 6th in Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year.
Taking advantage of the protein available the in large quantities of insects that exist often is one solution world food demands. Many cultures have failed to take advantage of the abundance, even though many will feature eating a specific insect as an exotic food enjoyed only by a few, such as chocolate covered ants.
Aversion to consumption of insects, however, often exists.
In 2011, cicadas were incorporated into a single batch of ice cream in Columbia, Missouri at Sparky's. The ice creamery was advised by the public health department against making a second batch, a suggestion with which store owners complied. Other creative recipes include Banana Bread Cicadas.
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- Massachusetts Cicadas describes behavior, sightings, photos, how to find guide, videos, periodical and annual cicada species information and distribution maps
- Magicicada.org Brood II mapping project – solicits records and observations from the general public
- Cicada Fact Sheet highlights prevention tips as well as information on habits, habitat and health threats
- Song recordings and information of cicadas of the eastern United States and Canada
- Songs of selected cicada species from the western United States
- University of Michigan Cicada Site contains information on the 13- and 17-year periodical cicadas and some North American annual cicadas
- cicadas of Florida, Neocicada hieroglyphica, Tibicen, Diceroprocta and Melampsalta spp. on the University of Florida / Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Featured Creatures
- College of Mt Saint Joseph Cicada Information Site; Greater Cincinnati Cicada Information & Teaching Resources
- Southeast Asian cicada songs on The Slovenian Museum of Natural History website
- DrMetcalf: a resource on cicadas, leafhoppers, planthoppers, spittlebugs, and treehoppers