The Life Cycle of a Cicada

The Life Cycle of a Cicada

There are forms of cicadas that have a life cycle of 2 to 5 years. However, the more interesting form and the one found most in North America is the species of cicada has a range of 13-17 years; with most of that time spent underground.

The Magicicada, (North American species), begins life as an egg deposited by an adult female cicada inside a tree branch or twig. She bores into a thin branch with a saw-like apparatus that is called an ovipositor. She lays hundreds of eggs at one time through the ovipositor, thus fullfilling her purpose in life.

In 6 or 7 weeks the eggs hatch and fall to the ground. At this phase of their lives they are called nymphs. The nymphs burrow into the ground to a depth of between 12 and 20 inches. For the next 13 to 17 years the nymphs survive and grow by drawing liquid out of tree roots.  They attach a strawlike organ to the roots of the trees and live on this liquid as their only source of nutrition. Nymphs are wingless and virtually helpless against predators. Most of the 400 to 700 nymphs are food sources for birds, snakes and spiders. Due to the number of nymphs, however, survival of quite of few is imminent.

Those nymphs that survive this phase of development mature to adulthood. When they first emerge from underground the nymphs are a soft, milky white. They do have wings now but it will take about 2 hours for newly the grown wings to unfold and dry. It may take a few days, however, before their bodies begin to harden and they acquire the hardened outer shells, or exoskeletons that protect them from predators as adults.

The adult cicadas will live only 4 to 6 weeks.  They have a lot to accomplish is such a short time frame! The male cicadas begin their mating ritual with their famous “cicada chorus”. The female cicadas do not make noise but are attracted to the males by the “chorus” they produce. After mating, the female cicada deposits eggs like her own adult mother would have done and the entire life cycle process begins again!

Cicadas are fascinating insects. Though the sounds they make are sometimes annoying to humans and other animals, they do very little harm except to smaller, newer trees. They provide a feast for many other species of animals as nymphs and as adults.