Cicadas. Part I.


For me, the sound of summer — hot, humid, stinking summer, the doggiest of Dog Days — is the rising and falling whine of cicadas up in trees. I first became acquainted with cicadas in the Midwest, where hot and humid go together like deep fat frying batter and food on a stick at a state fair. I was delighted to find them here on the East Coast, too, where hot and humid are also suffocatingly entwined during the depths of summer.

In fact, you can find annual cicadas right here in Brooklyn, no thanks to all the acres of concrete and tar covering up the ground. Cicadas spend the majority of their life underground, sucking on tree roots (yum!), but they do need to come to the surface eventually, and nothing spoils a good emergence like a slab of concrete.

There are two basic types of cicadas: the periodical and the annual (a.k.a. dog day cicada or dog day harvestfly). The periodicals are the famous seventeen year cicadas, some species of which actually spend thirteen years underground, others the eponymous seventeen, with off-schedule emergences every once and a while within their regions. The periodical cicadas are recognized by their red eyes, and, should you find yourself amidst a brood, their tremendous numbers. The next local brood is expected in 2013 on Staten Island, our least paved borough.

The annual cicadas, as their name suggests, are with us every year. Because it takes from three to five years for these true bugs to reach maturity, what we witness each year are the emergence of different generations.
Once it digs its way out of the ground, the nymph cicada crawls up a tree. There it clasps hold of the bark and begins its transformation into an adult: it splits down the back, the winged adult struggles out. The second, third, and fourth pictures here (all pictures heche in Brooklyn) are of the empty exoskeletons, abandoned attached to trees and leaves. These are called exuviae by the specialists.

The newly emergent adult cicadas allow their wings to spread and dry, then continue climbing up the tree, or fly to a new tree, to begin the mating process. That buzzing sound? The males, trying to attract the females. Last summer was a particularly rich year for cicadas; there seem to be less this year, but if you haven’t heard one yet, you haven’t been listening.
Tibicen canicularis

(See all my cicada and cicada killer wasp themed posts.)

12 Responses to “Cicadas. Part I.”


  1. 1 Paul Lamb July 31, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Where in the Midwest?

  2. 3 Joy K. August 6, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Their faces are so amusing with those big bulbous eyes.

  3. 4 joan knapp August 12, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    I remember the first time I encountered an abandoned cicada exoskeleton attached to a tree stump. It gave me quite a start until I figured out what it was. I’ve seen quite a number since and really enjoy seeing them.

  4. 5 nadeya March 31, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    just in case a pod.

  5. 6 lolasanrose June 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    i was pleased to find your article. thank you so much. i just today took my first cicada pic. I wanted to confirm it was a cicada. i love them, when i hear them, i feel i travel back in time.

  6. 7 lolasanrose June 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    thank you for sharing knowledge and experience of the cicada. just today i took my first cicada pic. my summer cicada. i needed confirmation and found you blog.


  1. 1 Tweets that mention Cicadas. Part I. « Backyard and Beyond -- Topsy.com Trackback on July 30, 2010 at 10:12 am
  2. 2 CotS 53: Spineless Specialties Menu Trackback on August 1, 2010 at 7:03 pm
  3. 3 Cicadas Emerging « Backyard and Beyond Trackback on July 15, 2011 at 11:44 am
  4. 4 City Habitat « Backyard and Beyond Trackback on July 17, 2011 at 8:05 am
  5. 5 Summer Whine « Backyard and Beyond Trackback on August 25, 2011 at 7:53 am

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