AskDefine | Define cicadas

Extensive Definition

A cicada is an insect of the order Homoptera, 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 globe, 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 sometimes colloquially called "locusts", although they are unrelated to true locusts, which are a kind of grasshopper. They are also known as "jar flies". 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 they leave behind.
Cicadas do not bite or sting, are benign to humans, and are not considered a pest. 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. Cicadas are employed in the traditional medicines of China
The name is a direct derivation of the Latin cicada. (In classical Greek it was called a tettix, and in modern Greek tzitzikas.)
In 2004, "cicada" ranked 6th in Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year.


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, Cicadinae and Cicadettinae, and they occur 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[1] ). 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. while many other cicadas can voluntarily raise their body temperatures as much as 22 °C above ambient temperature.

Cicada song

Male cicadas have loud noisemakers called "timbals" on the sides of the abdominal base. Their "singing" is not the stridulation (where two structures are rubbed against one another) of many other familiar sound-producing insects like crickets: the timbals are regions of the exoskeleton that are modified to form a complex membrane with thin, membranous portions and thickened "ribs". Contracting the internal timbal muscles produces a clicking sound as the timbals buckle inwards. As these muscles relax, the timbals 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 wiggling their abdomens toward and away from the tree that they are on. Additionally, each species has its own distinctive song.
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. Adult cicadas have a sideways-ridged plate where the mouth is in normal insects.
Some cicadas produce sounds up to 120 dB (SPL) "at close range", among the loudest of all insect-produced sounds. 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. The song intensity of the louder cicadas acts as an effective bird repellent. Males of many species tend to gather which creates a greater sound intensity and protects against avian predators. 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 make noise at once.
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.
The song of the cicada is a favorite sound effect used by filmmakers and animators as a means of representing silence, pathos, and the great outdoors.

Life cycle

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 newborn 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, e.g. the Magicicada goes through a 17- or occasionally 13-year life cycle. These long life cycles are an adaptation to predators such as the cicada killer wasp and praying mantis, as a predator could not regularly fall into synchrony with the cicadas. Both 13 and 17 are prime numbers, so while a cicada with a 15-year life cycle could be preyed upon by a predator with a three- or five-year life cycle, the 13- and 17-year cycles allow them to stop the predators falling into step.
The insects spend most of the time that they are underground as nymphs at depths ranging from about 30 cm (1 ft) up 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 moult (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 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 amongst 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 yards, 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 .

Cicada and Symbolism

In France, the cicada is used to represent the folklore of Provence and Mediterranean cities (despite the fact some species live in Alsace or the Paris Basin).
A summer insect (at least in temperate countries), the cicada has represented insouciance (i.e. nonchalance or indifference) since antiquity; the fabulist Aesop made a cicada the hero in a fable called La Cigale et la Fourmi (The Cicada and the Ant). Jean de La Fontaine used this fable in his collection two thousand years after Aesop, in his own work entitled Les fables de La Fontaine. His version of this fable is so well-known and well-studied that it has become a symbol of his literary genre.
In 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.

Culinary Use

In North China cicadas are skewered or stir fried as a delicacy.




External links

cicadas in Arabic: حشرة الزيز
cicadas in Guarani: Ñakyrã
cicadas in Min Nan: Siân
cicadas in Danish: Cikade
cicadas in German: Singzikaden
cicadas in Spanish: Cicadidae
cicadas in Persian: زنجره
cicadas in French: Cicadidae
cicadas in Korean: 매미
cicadas in Ido: Cikado
cicadas in Indonesian: Tonggeret
cicadas in Italian: Cicadidae
cicadas in Haitian: Sigal
cicadas in Latin: Cicadidae
cicadas in Lithuanian: Giedančios cikados
cicadas in Min Dong Chinese: Ă-cì
cicadas in Japanese: セミ
cicadas in Norwegian: Sangsikader
cicadas in Polish: Cykadowate
cicadas in Portuguese: Cigarra
cicadas in Russian: Цикада
cicadas in Slovenian: Škržati
cicadas in Sundanese: Turaés
cicadas in Swedish: Cikador
cicadas in Thai: จักจั่น
cicadas in Vietnamese: Ve sầu
cicadas in Chinese: 蝉
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