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The 17-year Periodical Cicada

These unique cicadas, also called Linnaeus's 17-year Cicadas, are a favorite of everyone who has encountered them. Their black bodies, red eyes and orange wings make them easy to identify. Adults emerge in early summer. Females lay eggs in the twigs of trees. The eggs develop into nymphs in about 4-7 weeks. The tiny nymphs rain down from the trees and burrow into the ground, where they remain and grow for 17 years, feeding on the sap of roots! Amazing! The last molt from nymph to adult is synchronized for all of the cicadas in a particular area (synchronized populations are called "broods"—see maps below). Nymphs emerge en mass. Tens of thousands molt into adults in just a few days. Their shed exoskeletons litter the bark and leaves of trees.

The males produce two distinct song types. The first is the calling song that the males give to attract females. If you listen carefully you can hear the female giving a sharp wing-flick that sounds like a tick, in response to the males' song. The second song type is the mating song, given by males when they approach females. The mating song becomes very animated just before copulation. The chorus of an woodland full of these magnificant insects sounds other-worldly. Even the birds are affected – their songs are drowned out by the din (they seem to sing far less in areas where broods emerge.)

For an abundance of information about periodical cicadas (including species other than the 17-year cicada), be sure to check out the University of Michigan Cicada Web Site, which is the source of the brood maps below:


Calling Song