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6 sensational facts about cicadas

 

(Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay)

Do you hear that really loud sound? What is that? What kind of bug makes that sound?

Some are calling the spring of 2021 "Cicadamania." That's because this year, we're not just getting the usual old cicadas (say "si-KAH-da" or "-si-KAY-da"). We're getting massive mega cicadas!

These bugs have spent 17 years underground. Now billions of cicadas are emerging to finish their life cycle. The Northeastern U.S. is going to be covered in bugs for up to six weeks!

These are periodical cicadas. They stay juveniles for more than 10 years before they turn into adults. That's why we only see them every 13 or 17 years.


Cicadas are super loud

dozens of cicadas get together on a bush

A bunch of male cicadas can get really loud! (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)

Cicadas are one of the loudest insects that we know of. A swarm of them can make sounds as loud as 120 decibels (how sound is measured). That's louder than a rock concert!

Only the males make this loud sound. They make the sound using a special area on their exoskeleton (their hard skeleton-like skin) called a tymbal. It's a membrane (a barrier) on their abdomen that vibrates really fast.


Cicadas get easily confused

a male and female cicada have found each other in the leaves

(Amira Karaoud/Reuters Pictures Archive)

During mating, the signing male cicadas can sound like a lawn mower or a power tool. This can get confusing for a female cicada trying to find a mate. They've been known to land on people who are mowing their lawns!


Cicadas live a really long time

a cicada nymph emerges from a hold in the dirt

A periodical cicada nymph climbs out of the ground after 17 years of living off tree roots. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

An annual cicada — the kind you see every year — can live two to five years. But the periodical cicadas can live up to 17 years in the larva stage. Your regular housefly only lives on average about 15 to 30 days.


Cicadas lay a lot of eggs

a tree branch shows where the eggs are laid, they are circled in red

The slits where the eggs are laid are outlined in big red circles. (Wikimedia/lorax/CC BY-SA)

Cicadas emerge from the ground as adults. They don't have a lot of time left to mate and lay eggs. A female cicada can lay 400 to 600 eggs before she dies.

She makes pockets to hold her eggs in the twigs of trees like hickory or oak. The pockets can hold about 25 eggs and some twigs can have 20 pockets in them.


Cicadas shed their skin

a branch is covered in discarded cicada skins

A periodical cicada climbs out of its molted skin on a leaf covered by other molted skins. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

When the adult cicadas emerge from the ground, the first thing they do is shed their skin. Billions of these skins, called exuviae, are found all over tree trunks where they emerged.

After the old skin is shed, they wait for their new skin to harden and their wings to work. Then they're off.


You can eat cicadas

a chef holds leaf with rice and fried cicadas to make sushi

(Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

It's not only birds, wasps and lizards that eat cicadas. Humans eat them too. Some say they have a sweet flavour, kind of like shrimp. Even though more scientists are making "bug" food, it's not for everyone. Maybe if it was covered in chocolate?