Saturday, August 20, 2011


Cicada, originally uploaded by Elizabeth Smith.

Always heard but seldom seen, cicadas are one of my favorite summer insects. As a child, I loved finding cast off cicada nymphal casings, marveling at the translucent brown replicas. I found this dead cicada on the ground, still whole before scavenging ants and beetles feasted on the soft parts.

My Florida insect book must be old, as it lists the order as Homoptera, but Wikipedia tells me that it’s been changed to Hemiptera. The state of Florida is home to 19 different species of cicadas, out of the 2,500 species living throughout the world.

I thought all cicadas had a life cycle enveloping a 13 to 17 year cycle, but apparently that belongs to a particular genus in North America, the Magicicada. The so-called annual cicadas have a life span of 2 to 5 years.

The life cycle starts when a female lays eggs in a slit she cuts into a living twig. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs drop to the ground and burrow in to the soil, emerging later to shed their final skin (like the ones I found as a child), and become an adult cicada, ready to start the process all over again.

Interesting tidbits I learned about cicadas include:
•Their diet – they sip the juices of plants and trees above ground, and the roots when below ground.
•Adult cicadas are edible, and eaten in several countries.
•The name cicada means “tree cricket” (from the Latin).
•Only the males make noise.
•Cicada species can be identified by the particular noise they make. That means there are over 2,000 variations of cicada music! The noise has been referred to as thrumming, buzzing, clicking, or zithering (my favorite).
•They exist on all continents but Antarctica.
•They have an additional three small simple eyes (ocelli) between their two larger eyes.
•They love the heat of summer, and make the most noise during the hottest parts of the day.
•They are part of folklore (17 year locusts), poetry (signifying summer), and symbolism (reincarnation).

I enjoyed the opportunity to do some close-up studies of this insect, using my Pitt artist’s pen in dark sepia in a Pentalic Nature Sketch sketchbook. I added a few watercolor washes (Daniel Smith) as well, since there some interesting variations of browns on the body and wings.

For everything you’ve always wanted to know about Florida cicadas, visit the University of Florida’s website.

For cicadas in general, including audio clips of cicada music and a video clip of a molting cicada, visit Wikipedia’s entry.

You can click on the top image to view it larger on my Flickr photostream.