Recently we have all spent plenty of time at home and are itching to get out and make a little noise. When you do, listen to hear if our remarkable cicadas have also done the same.
Living most of their lives deep underground, nymphs enjoy a leisurely youth sucking sap from tree roots. In some regions of the country, the periodical emergence of these large, loud insects every 13 or 17 years creates a bit of fervor due to the fantastic number of bugs. Here in Florida, our loud locusts are known as annual cicadas, though their life cycle takes several years.
Once the nymphs have dined their way to adulthood, they emerge from the soils, amble over to the closest tree, fence post or other vertical object and climb up, hooking in with specialized claws. A complex chemical process begins, allowing the hard shell or exoskeleton of the former nymph to separate from the newly transformed adult within. When it dries and splits, the winged adult then struggles out and begins pumping body fluids throughout its body to fully enlarge into adult form.
This time-limited process requires immediate attention as the insect’s body once again begins to harden into a firm, protective shell. The former shed skins or exoskeletons of the nymphs are left behind on fence posts or trees illuminating the drastically different appearance between nymphs and adults.
Harmless to humans and reportedly tasty if prepared properly, they are devoured by birds and hunted by cicada-killer wasps. These enormous and impressively marked wasps may strike panic in those fearful of stinging insects, but no worries my friend. Unlikely to sting unless handled, they are quite focused on digging dens in sandy soils and hunting cicadas. Once they capture one, they sting to stun it and have the arduous task of carrying or dragging the large bug back to the den to become a packaged meal for their own soon-to-hatch larvae.
Undoubtedly the loudest insect out there, the ear-splitting buzz emanating from treetops in the summer months throughout our region and the country, comes courtesy of the male cicadas. Outfitted with specialized membranes known as tymbals, the insect snaps plate-like muscles in and out like you might pop the plastic of an empty soda bottle, but they do it 100 times a second. As each tymbal snaps back and forth at lightning speed, it creates a buzzing. This vibration is then amplified by air sacs within the male’s abdomen. Even more remarkable is that quivering bellies of each species differs just enough that they each produce a unique sound and can be identified from their singing.