Insect of the Week: Cicadas
According to folk legend, when you hear the first song of the dog-day cicadas, it means there’s just six weeks until frost. I heard my first cicada sing about three weeks ago. Let’s hope that the folk legend is not correct.
The dog-day cicada also known as the annual cicada is a large insect that develops on the roots of trees and shrubs. Most are long-lived and may take two to five years to become fully grown. Male cicadas “sing to attract females. Many produce loud, shrill buzzing noises. Cicadas are sometimes mistakenly called locus, a term used to describe certain migratory grasshoppers. This error originated when early European settlers encountered large instances of periodical cicadas in the Northeast part of the United States. As they had not previously seen cicada outbreaks, they likened them to locusts described in the Bible.
Cicada nymphs develop underground, feeding on root sap of trees and shrubs. Development usually takes between two to five years to complete. When full-grown, nymphs emerge from the soil and crawl up a nearby plant or wall and the nymphal skin splits along the back. The adults pull themselves from the old skin and hang on the plant for several hours. The new exoskeleton hardens and darkens quickly and the adults fly away, leaving behind their cast nymphal skins. Adults are present for about four to six weeks following emergence. Dog-day cicadas can reach about 2 inches in length. After mating, the adult females begin to lay eggs in slits in the twigs of various host plants. After the eggs hatch, nymphs drop to the ground, quickly burrow into the soil and spend the next two to five years feeding on plant roots. Despite their size, cicadas cause little injury.