|Annual cicada, Tibicen linnei|
A cicada (11px // or //) is an insect of the order Hemiptera, suborder Auchenorrhyncha (which was formerly included in the now invalid order Homoptera), in the superfamily Cicadoidea, with large eyes wide apart on the head and usually transparent, well-veined wings. There are about 2,500 species of cicada around the world, and many of them remain unclassified. Cicadas live in temperate to tropical climates where they are among the most widely recognized of all insects, mainly due to their large size and unique sound. Cicadas are often colloquially called locusts, although they are unrelated to true locusts, which are a kind of grasshopper. Cicadas are related to leafhoppers and spittlebugs.
Cicadas are benign to humans under normal circumstances and do not bite or sting in a true sense, but may mistake a person's arm or other part of their body for a tree or plant limb and attempt to feed. Cicadas have a long proboscis under their head which they insert into plant stems in order to feed on sap. It can be painful if they attempt to pierce a person's skin with it, but it is unlikely to cause other harm. It is unlikely to be a defensive reaction and is a rare occurrence. It usually only happens when they are allowed to rest on a person's body for an extended amount of time.
Many people around the world regularly eat cicadas. They are known to have been eaten in Ancient Greece as well as China, Malaysia, Burma, Latin America, and the Congo. Female cicadas are prized for being meatier. Shells of cicadas are employed in the traditional medicines of China.
The name is a direct derivation of the Latin cicada, meaning "tree cricket". There is no word of proper English, or indeed Germanic, etymology for the insect. In classical Greek, it was called a tettix, and in modern Greek tzitzikas—both names being onomatopoeic.
Cicadas are arranged into two families: Tettigarctidae (q.v.) and Cicadidae. There are two extant species of Tettigarctidae, one in southern Australia, and the other in Tasmania. The family Cicadidae is subdivided into the subfamilies Tettigadinae, Tibiceninae, Cicadinae, and Cicadettinae, and they exist on all continents except Antarctica.
The largest cicadas are in the genera Pomponia and Tacua. There are some 200 species in 38 genera in Australia, about 450 in Africa, about 100 in the Palaearctic, and exactly one species in England, the New Forest cicada, Melampsalta montana, widely distributed throughout Europe. There are about 150 species in South Africa.
Most of the North American species are in the genus Tibicen: the annual or jar fly or dog-day cicadas (so named because they emerge in late July and August).  The best-known North American genus is Magicicada, however. These periodical cicadas have an extremely long life cycle of 13 to 17 years and emerge in large numbers. Another American species is the Apache cicada, Diceroprocta apache.
Australian cicadas differ from many other types because of that continent's diversity of climate and terrain. In Australia, cicadas are found on tropical islands and cold coastal beaches around Tasmania; in tropical wetlands; high and low deserts; alpine areas of New South Wales and Victoria; large cities like Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane; and Tasmanian highlands and snowfields.
Forty-two species from five genera populate New Zealand, and all are endemic to New Zealand and the surrounding islands (Norfolk Island, New Caledonia). Many New Zealand cicada species differ from those of other countries by being found high up on mountain tops.
The adult insect, known as an imago, is usually 2 to 5 cm (1 to 2 in) long, although some tropical species can reach 15 cm (6 in), e.g. Pomponia imperatoria from Malaysia. Cicadas have prominent eyes set wide apart on the sides of the head, short antennae protruding between or in front of the eyes, and membranous front wings. Also, commonly overlooked, cicadas have three small eyes, or ocelli, located on the top of the head between the two large eyes that match the colour of the large eyes.
Desert cicadas are also among the few insects known to cool themselves by sweating, while many other cicadas can voluntarily raise their body temperatures as much as 22 °C (72 °F) above ambient temperature.
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Male cicadas have loud noisemakers called "tymbals" on the sides of the abdominal base. Their "singing" is not the stridulation (where one structure is rubbed against another) of many other familiar sound-producing insects like crickets: the tymbals are regions of the exoskeleton that are modified to form a complex membrane with thin, membranous portions and thickened "ribs". Contracting the internal tymbal muscles produces a clicking sound as the tymbals buckle inwards. As these muscles relax, the tymbals return to their original position producing another click. The interior of the male abdomen is substantially hollow to amplify the resonance of the sound. A cicada rapidly vibrates these membranes, and enlarged chambers derived from the tracheae make its body serve as a resonance chamber, greatly amplifying the sound. The cicada modulates the sound by positioning its abdomen toward or away from the substrate. Additionally, each species has its own distinctive "song".
Average temperature of the natural habitat for this species is approximately 29 °C (84 °F). During sound production, the temperature of the tymbal muscles was found to be slightly higher. Cicadas like heat and do their most spirited singing during the hotter hours of a summer day, in a roughly 24 hour cycle.
Although only males produce the cicadas' distinctive sound, both sexes have tympana, which are membranous structures used to detect sounds and thus the cicadas' equivalent of ears. Males can disable their own tympana while calling.
Some cicadas produce sounds up to 120 dB (SPL), among the loudest of all insect-produced sounds. This is especially notable as their song is technically loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans, should the cicada sing just outside the listener's ear. Conversely, some small species have songs so high in pitch that the noise is inaudible to humans. Species have different mating songs to ensure they attract the appropriate mate. It can be difficult to determine from which direction(s) cicada song is coming, because the low pitch carries well and because it may, in fact, be coming from many directions at once, as cicadas in various trees all raise one another to make noise in unison. Although relatively loud, cicada song can be comforting and even hypnotic at times, as it is at its loudest during the hottest time of an already hot day.
In addition to the mating song, many species also have a distinct distress call, usually a somewhat broken and erratic sound emitted when an individual is seized. A number of species also have a courtship song, which is often a quieter call and is produced after a female has been drawn by the calling song.
After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig, and into these she deposits her eggs. She may do so repeatedly, until she has laid several hundred eggs. When the eggs hatch, the newly hatched nymphs drop to the ground, where they burrow. Most cicadas go through a life cycle that lasts from two to five years. Some species have much longer life cycles, such as the North American genus, Magicicada, which has a number of distinct "broods" that go through either a 17-year or, in some parts of the world , a 13-year life cycle. These long life cycles perhaps developed as a response to predators, such as the cicada killer wasp and praying mantis. A predator with a shorter life cycle of at least two years could not reliably prey upon the cicadas.
Cicadas live underground as nymphs for most of their lives, at depths ranging from about 30 cm (1 ft) down to 2.5 m (about 8.5 ft). The nymphs feed on root juice and have strong front legs for digging.
In the final nymphal instar, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then molt (shed their skins) on a nearby plant for the last time and emerge as adults. The abandoned exoskeleton remains, still clinging to the bark of trees.
Cicada nymphs suck sap from the xylem of various species of tree, including oak, cypress, ash, and maple. While it is common folklore that adults do not eat, in reality they do have their own sucking mouthparts, and also drink plant sap.
Cicadas are commonly eaten by birds, and sometimes by squirrels, but Massospora cicadina (a fungal disease) is the biggest enemy of cicadas. Another known predator is the cicada killer wasp. In eastern Australia, the native freshwater fish Australian bass are keen predators of cicadas that crash-land on the surface of streams.
Some species of cicada also have an unusual defense mechanism to protect themselves from predation, known as predator satiation: by many emerging at once, whereas there are no cicadas around for much of the year, the number of cicadas in any given area exceeds the amount predators can eat; all available predators are thus satiated, and the remaining cicadas can breed in peace.
Cicadas in Australia
Around 220 cicada species have been identified in Australia, many of which go by fanciful common names such as: cherry nose, brown baker, red eye (Psaltoda moerens), green grocer/green Monday, yellow Monday, whisky drinker, double drummer (Thopha saccata), and black prince. The Australian green grocer, Cyclochila australasiae, is among the loudest insects in the world.
Being principally tropical insects, most Australian species are found in the northern states. However, cicadas occur in almost every part of Australia: the hot wet tropical north; Tasmanian snowfields; Victorian beaches and sand dunes such as Torquay and deserts. (Some species such as the Green Grocer are not restricted to coastal or desert zones in Victoria. Each year for a period of a few weeks, an astonishing number of newly mature Green Grocer Cicadas emerge from the ground. Their numbers, combined with the ear shattering noise produced by a single adult male, are sufficient to make their entrance throughout suburbia absolutely unmistakable and 'Cicada Season' as some Victorian residents know this time, is clearly noticeable even in CBD areas of major cities such as Bendigo and Melbourne where this species flourish). According to Max Moulds of the Australian Museum in Sydney: "the 'green grocer' is unusual in its ability to adapt perfectly to the urbanized environment." Cicada sounds are a defining quality of Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra during late spring and the summer months.
Cicadas inhabit both native and exotic plants, including tall trees, coastal mangroves, suburban lawns, and desert shrubbery. The great variety of flora and climatic variation found in north-eastern Queensland results in its being the richest region for the spread of different species. The area of greatest species diversity is a 100 km (60 mi) wide region around Cairns. In some areas, they are preyed on by the cicada-hunter (Exeirus lateritius), which stings and stuns cicadas high in the trees, making them drop to the ground where the cicada-hunter mounts and carries them, pushing with its hind legs, sometimes over a distance of a hundred meters, till they can be shoved down into its burrow, where the numb cicada is placed onto one of many shelves in a 'catacomb', to form the food-stock for the wasp grub that grows out of the egg deposited there.
The cicada has represented insouciance since classical antiquity. Jean de La Fontaine began his collection of fables Les fables de La Fontaine with the story La Cigale et la Fourmi (The Cicada and the Ant) based on one of Aesop's fables: in it the cicada spends the summer singing while the ant stores away food, and finds herself without food when the weather turns bitter.
In Japan, the cicada is associated with the summer season. The songs of the cicada are often used in Japanese film and television to indicate the scene is taking place in the summer. The song of Meimuna opalifera, called "tsuku-tsuku boshi", is said to indicate the end of summer, and it is called so because of its particular call. During the summer, it is a pastime for children to collect both cicadas and the shells left behind when moulting.
Since the cicada emerges from the ground to sing every summer, in Japan it is seen as a symbol of reincarnation. Of special importance is the fact that the cicada moults, leaving behind an empty shell. But furthermore, since the cicada only lives for the short period of time long enough to attract a mate with its song and complete the process of fertilization, they are seen as a symbol of evanescence.
In the Japanese novel The Tale of Genji, the title character poetically likens one of his many love interests to a cicada for the way she delicately sheds her scarf the way a cicada sheds its shell when molting. A cicada shell also plays a role in the manga Winter Cicada. They are also a frequent subject of haiku, where, depending on type, they can indicate spring, summer, or fall. Also, in the series Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, cicadas (or higurashi) are a major subject.
In China, the phrase 'to shed off the golden cicada skin'(金蝉脱壳, pinyin: Jīn Chán tuōké) is the poetic name of the tactic of using deception to escape danger, specifically of using decoys (leaving the old shell) to fool enemies. It became one of the 36 classic Chinese strategems. In the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Diaochan also got her name from the sable (diāo) tails and jade decorations in the shape of cicadas (chán), which at the time adorned the hats of high-level officials. In the Chinese classic Journey to the West, the protagonist Priest of Tang was named the Golden Cicada; in this context the multiple shedding of shell of the cicada symbolizes the many stages of transformation required of a person before all illusions have been broken and one reaches enlightenment. This is also referred to in Japanese mythical ninja lore, as the technique of utsusemi (i.e., literally cicada), where ninjas would trick opponents into attacking a decoy.
Javanese version of cycle of months, called pranata mangsa, uses cicadas sound as an indicator of the beginning of dry season (April–May). Farmers who still depend on rain irrigation will interpret this as time for planting of non-rice crops.
In Mexico, the mariachi song "La Cigarra" (lit. "The Cicada") romanticises the insect as a creature that sings until it dies.
In 2004, "cicada" ranked 6th in Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year.
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- Massachusetts Cicadas describes behavior, sightings, photos, "how to find" guide, videos, periodical and annual cicada species information and distribution maps
- Magicicada.org Brood XIX mapping project – solicits records and observations from the general public
- Cicada Mania has cicada news, FAQs, links, pictures and video
- Comprehensive website with reprints, distribution records, databases, and maps at Cicada Central
- Extensive website on eastern Australian cicadas, with songs, photos, distribution maps, and natural history
- Song recordings and information of cicadas of the eastern United States and Canada
- Songs of selected cicada species from the western United States
- Cicada anatomy notes
- Cicada and forest mulch
- Cicada in Eastern Ontario, Canada
- Cicadas in Illinois University of Illinois Extension
- cicada molting - several pictures
- Cicadas through History
- Green Grocer, image
- Memories of the great cicada invasion of 2004
- "University of Michigan Cicada Site" contains information on the 13- and 17-year periodical cicadas and some North American annual cicadas
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- Sounds of the Swarm Multimedia piece with images of specific species of cicadas with their accompanying sound
- Cicadidae of Thailand
- College of Mt Saint Joseph Cicada Information Site; Greater Cincinnati Cicada Information & Teaching Resources
- Cicadas pictures shares facts and pictures regarding cicadas and their behavior, life cycle, and feeding habits
- Annual Cicada Tibicen canicularis - large format diagnostic photos
- Annual Cicada Tibicen linnei - diagnostic large format photographs
- Audio files of the "songs" of some Cicadas from Florida
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