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What do they look like?

Cicadas are large, stout insects. They have round bulging eyes on the corners of their heads, and short, bristly antennae. They have sucking mouthparts that attach at the base of their head.

Adults have four wings that they hold folded over their backs like the roof of a house. They also have special panels on the sides of their bodies called "tymbals." They vibrate these very fast to make loud sounds.

Young cicadas are called nymphs. They have no wings, and their front legs have thick claws for burrowing.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike

Where do they live?

Cicadas are found all around the world. They are most diverse in warm regions. We have about 10 species in Michigan.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Cicadas need trees or large woody bushes to feed on when they are nymphs, and soil that is not too wet. They are found in habitats that have warm summers (at least) and these kinds of plants and soil.

How do they grow?

Newly-hatched cicadas climb or drop down to the ground from the branch their egg was in. They burrow into the ground and start feeding on the plant juices in roots. As they grow they shed their exoskeleton several times. They sometimes spend many years in the soil before they are finished growing. For some species it takes 13 years, others take 17, and some take less, but nobody knows exactly how long.

When they are mature, they climb out of the ground and complete one final molt. They emerge as an adult cicada with wings, and fly away to find a mate. Once they become an adult they stop growing and do not molt again.

Some of the species that take 13 or 17 years all come out of the ground at one time. There can be millions of adult cicadas flying around at that time.

How long do they live?

Some species live for 13 or 17 years and all emerge at once. Some come out every year, but nobody knows how long they spend in the ground. Probably at least 3 years.

How do they behave?

Adults are active during the day. Very little is known about the behavior of cicada nymphs living in the ground. Cicadas don't usually move far, just to nearby trees. Some species are solitary, some gather in giant groups to mate.

How do they communicate with each other?

Adult cicadas communicate mainly with sound. Males and female exchange signals, and males will signal to other males too.

What do they eat?

Cicadas spend most of their lives sucking juice from the roots of trees. The adults may also suck plant juices from stems.

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Pretty much any animal that eats insects will eat a cicada if it can catch one. Cicadas don't have many defenses. Nymphs hide deep in the soil. Adults will fly from danger if they can, and if caught make a very loud buzzing sound that may surprise predators. When millions of cicadas emerge at once, they overwhelm their predators: there are so many that the predators can't eat them all, and many cicadas survive.

How do they interact with us?

Cicadas don't have strong effects on humans one way or another. They can be a nuisance when there are millions of them, and then the sometimes damage the branches of trees when they lay eggs, but usually they don't affect people too much. Some people think they bite or sting, but this is not true.

Are they endangered?

We don't know of any cicada species that are endangered. Some species may be threatened by the destruction of forests.

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Some more information...

Some cicada species make the loudest sounds of any insect in the world.


George Hammond (author), Animal Diversity Web.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map


living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.


mid-altitude coastal areas with mild, rainy winters and long, dry summers. Dominant plant types are dense, evergreen shrubs.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


animals that have little or no ability to regulate their body temperature, body temperatures fluctuate with the temperature of their environment, often referred to as 'cold-blooded'.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Climbing plants are also abundant. There is plenty of moisture and rain, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Hammond, G. . "Cicadidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 19, 2014 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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