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The Hidden Life of Cicadas

The emergence of the 17-year cicadas has officially started in Winnebago County! Cicadas are remarkable insects with complex life cycles and significant ecological roles. Their emergence and loud songs make them a unique and memorable part of our natural world.

There is no denying the unique song of the cicadas during the Midwest summer months. But did you know that there are thousands of different species of cicadas and each have unique characteristics? Let’s dive in to some fascinating facts about these buzzing bugs.

So, what is the difference between periodical and annual cicadas?

The difference between periodical cicadas and annual cicadas lies in the duration they spend feeding as nymphs underground.

Annual cicadas typically spend about 2 years underground and adults emerge every year (annually) to mate. Periodical cicadas eat underground for either 13 or 17 years, depending on the species.

When periodical cicadas emerge at the same time, usually in late spring, this behavior is known as predator saturationThe mass emergence of cicadas is thought to overwhelm predators, like birds or racoons, ensuring that enough cicadas survive to reproduce.

Periodical Cicada (photo courtesy of Canva)
Periodical Cicada (photo courtesy of Canva)

Cicada Diversity

There are over 3,000 known species of cicadas worldwide. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are most common in tropical regions, where the warm, humid climate provides ideal habitat.

Each species of cicada has its own unique song, which helps individuals find mates of the same species. These songs can vary greatly in pitch, rhythm, and duration.

Noisy Neighbors

Male cicadas are known for their loud, distinctive songs, which they use to attract females. The noise is produced by specialized organs, call tymbals, in the abdomen.

Their songs can reach up to 120 decibels, comparable to the noise level of a rock concert! Making them one of the loudest insects in the world.

Rock on, cicadas!

Ecological Impact

Cicadas play a significant role in our ecosystem both under and above ground.

As nymphs, they aerate the soil through their burrowing activities. They are also a favorite food of shrews and moles.

After they emerge, cicadas are typically feasted on by many bird species, squirrels, turtles, snakes, and the occasional racoon.

When they die, their decomposing bodies provide a nutrient-rich source of fertilizer for plants.

Cicada Exoskeletons at Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve
Cicada Exoskeletons at Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve

Although cicadas are not winning a beauty pageant anytime soon, they are a fascinating insect that are the star of Summer 2024. We encourage you to explore your forest preserves and experience the 17-year periodical cicadas while you still can!


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