* Moulds, M.S. 2005: An appraisal of the higher classification of cicadas (Hemiptera : Cicadoidea) with special reference to the Australian fauna. Records of the Australian Museum, 57: 375-446.
A cicada (play /sɪˈkeɪdə/ or /sɪˈkɑːdə/) is an insect of the order Hemiptera, suborder Auchenorrhyncha, 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 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 remarkable acoustic talents. Cicadas are often colloquially called locusts, although they are unrelated to true locusts, which are a kind of grasshopper. They are also known as "jar flies" and, regionally, as July flies in the Southeastern United States, and as "heat bugs" in Canada and the Midwest. Cicadas are related to leafhoppers and spittlebugs. In parts of the southern Appalachian Mountains in the United States, they are known as "dry flies" because of the dry shell that they leave behind.
Cicadas are benign to humans in normal circumstances and do not bite or sting in a true sense, but may in fact sting after mistaking a person's arm or other part of their body as a tree or plant limb and attempt to feed. Cicadas have a long proboscis under their head that they use for feeding on tree sap, and if they attempt to inject it into a person's body it can be painful, but is in no other way harmful. This sting is not a defensive reaction and should not be mistaken for aggression; it is extremely uncommon, and usually only happens when they are allowed to rest on a person's body for an extended amount of time.
Cicadas can cause damage to several cultivated crops, shrubs, and trees, mainly in the form of scarring left on tree branches while the females lay their eggs deep in branches. Many people around the world regularly eat cicadas; the female is prized, as it is meatier. Cicadas have been (or are still) eaten in Ancient Greece, China, Malaysia, Burma, Latin America, and the Congo. Shells of cicadas are employed in the traditional medicines of China.
The name is a direct derivation of the Latin cicada, meaning "buzzer". There is no word of proper English, or indeed Germanic, etymology for the insect as it does not live in northern latitudes. 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 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, sometimes called 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 (40 °F) above ambient temperature.
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. They modulate their noise by positioning their abdomens 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 were found to be slightly higher. Cicadas like heat and do their most spirited singing during the hotter hours of a summer day.
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) "at close range", 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 (unlikely). 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 which direction(s) cicada song is coming from, 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.
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 8½ 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 skins remain, still clinging to the bark of trees.
Cicadas are commonly eaten by birds, 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 cidadas around for much of the year, essentially, 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. 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 rides 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.
In France, the cicada is used to represent the folklore of Provence and Mediterranean cities (although some species live in Alsace or the Paris Basin).
In the Ancient Greek myth, Tithonus eventually turns into a cicada after being granted immortality but not eternal youth by Zeus.
The cicada has represented insouciance (i.e. nonchalance or indifference) 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 that the scene is taking place in the summer. The song of a particular cicada, 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.
In Japan, the cicada carries further philosophical connotations of re-birth. Since the cicada emerges from the ground to sing every summer, it is 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 the series.
In China the phrase 'to shed off the golden cicada skin'(金蝉脱壳) 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 (diào) 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.
In Mexico, the mariachi song "La Cigarra" (lit. "The Cicada") romanticises the insect as a creature that sings until it dies.
In Tuscany, the Italian word for the cicada ("cicala") is the euphemism for "vagina" used by children (the usage is equivalent to "fanny" in British/Australian English).
In 2004, "cicada" ranked 6th in Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year.
Cicadas have been eaten in China, Malaysia, Burma, Latin America, Germany, the Congo and in the United States. In North China, cicadas are skewered, deep fried or stir fried as a delicacy.
1. ^ a b c Lorus Milne and Margery Milne, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1992).
* Clausen, Lucy W. (1954). Insect Fact and Folklore. New York: Macmillan. XIV + 194 pp.
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