Periodical Cicadas

Cicadidae (cicadas) in the order Hemiptera (true bugs)

Adults have blackish bodies, red eyes and 4 membranous wings with a gold, orange or red tinge. They crawl and fly, but do not jump. The mouthparts, tucked beneath the head, are like a small, sharp straw. The antennae are short, and there are 3 ocelli (eyespots) in addition to the 2 larger, compound eyes. Compared to annual or “dog-day” cicadas, periodical cicadas are smaller. Adult males have a sound-producing organ that emits a loud, raspy call used to attract females. Adult females have a curved ovipositor at the lower end of the abdomen, used to insert eggs into slits in twigs. Nymphs are tan or brownish, wingless, stout, with the front pair of legs specialized for burrowing in the soil and for clinging onto trees as they undergo their final molt into adults. Neither nymphs nor adults are capable of harming people.

Length: to 1½ inches.
Habitat and conservation: 
Periodical cicadas make a sudden, massive appearance, usually in areas with trees, with loud raspy choruses and a multitude of shed skins left behind on tree trunks. Birds feast on the plentiful insects and are probably the reason for their odd, simultaneous, abundant appearance. By emerging in huge numbers, cicadas, like a big school of fish, overwhelm their predators’ numbers and ability to feed on them, so any individual cicada has a good chance of surviving and reproducing.
Cicadas, like most “true bugs,” have sucking mouthparts like small, sharp straws. Cicada nymphs live underground, sucking from the roots of trees and other plants. Winged adults can suck plant juices, too, although they live for only a few weeks above ground. It is very uncommon, but if you let a cicada sit quietly on your hand or arm for a long time, it may jab you with its mouth, mistaking you for a plant—painful, but a harmless accident, and certainly not an act of aggression or even defense.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Statewide, but different broods emerge in different regions during different years.
Common throughout the state, but especially in areas where trees are abundant and land left relatively undisturbed for 13–17 years. Because the nymphs live underground, suck juices from plant roots and then must crawl out of the ground, large earthworks, deforestation, insecticides, enormous paved parking lots and residential and commercial developments can decrease populations locally. Different broods in different regions each have their own schedule.
Life cycle: 
The different species and broods of periodical cicadas all have a life cycle similar to the “annual” ones, except instead of living as nymphs for 2–5 years underground, with some adults emerging every year, the broods of periodical cicadas live underground for either 13 or 17 years, and all of the same type in an area emerge to become adults the same year—in fact, the same week. Scientists are still trying to learn how they synchronize their life cycles so exactly.
Human connections: 
Periodical cicadas are one of the great wonders of nature, and they make a dramatic impact on our senses. Some people dislike the incessant din of calling males, while others are impressed by it. Many human cultures have myths based on cicadas, and many people worldwide eat cicadas, too.
Ecosystem connections: 
Periodical cicadas provide a temporarily huge, but ultimately unreliable food source for their many predators. The slits made in twigs by thousands of egg-laying females weaken branch tips, which often break off, providing a natural 13–17-year pruning mechanism. Young trees may be killed, however.