JUN 19, 2016 08:39 AM PDT

17 years underground: the life cycle of Magicicada cicadas


What is the shrill incessant noise that fills your backyard to such great lengths that you can't even hear your own thoughts? Cicadas are large homopterous insects with long transparent wings, found chiefly in warm countries. That noise you hear is the male cicada, who makes a loud, shrill droning noise by vibrating two membranes on its abdomen.

But the life cycle of Magicicada cicadas in North America is unique in that they spend 17 years underground feeding on sap from tree routes. When the time calls, millions of them will emerge simultaneously and morph into their adult bodies. The males make their infamous noise to attract females for mates. The females make a much quieter click with their wings. When a male finds a mate, his call alters - signifying that the 17 long years of abstinence has come to an end.

But how do the cicadas all know when to emerge? Scientists know that they can detect changes in the contents of tree sap, and hence recognize the passing of time. It's thought that this long life cycle may have evolved as an adaptation against predators such as the cicada killer wasp and praying mantis.
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
NOV 05, 2018
Videos
NOV 05, 2018
The Mechanisms Underlying the Deadly Blow of the Mantis Shrimp
The mantis shrimp packs a powerful punch that can strike its enemies with one of the fastest moves in the animal kingdom....
NOV 14, 2018
Videos
NOV 14, 2018
Visualizing Embryonic Development in Zebrafish
Zebrafish share genetic features with many other organisms, and they undergo a rapid developmental process in which they can remain transparent....
NOV 17, 2018
Videos
NOV 17, 2018
Using Genetic Research to Improve Animal Conservation and Care
A group of Peters's Angolan colobus monkeys were brought to US zoos from East Africa in the 80s, but little is known about them....
NOV 22, 2018
Chemistry & Physics
NOV 22, 2018
The Hottest Spice That You Probably Don't Want to Savor
Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid 1 cation channel, or TRPV1, plays an important role in the human body in sensing heat and pain.  Coincidentally...
NOV 24, 2018
Plants & Animals
NOV 24, 2018
These Are Some of the Most Extreme Dads in the Animal Kingdom
Being a dad isn’t always smooth sailing, but compared to a plethora of different species in the animal kingdom, human dads have it easy. The hardhead...
DEC 05, 2018
Videos
DEC 05, 2018
Promising Results From Early Trials of Gene Therapy for Sickle Cell Anemia
More than 90,000 Americans and millions of people around the world have SCA....
Loading Comments...