Have you ever heard the loud, buzzing sound of cicadas on a hot summer day? Many of us may forget about cicadas most of the year, until they remind us again with their loud calls in late summer. But have you ever wondered what eats cicadas? While cicadas are often thought of as pests, they are an important food source for a variety of animals. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what eat cicadas.
What eats cicadas?
Birds, ants, mantises, moles, cicada killer wasps, bats and small mammals are all examples of some of the animals that eat cicadas.
Cicadas are insects with large, bulging eyes and transparent wings, and are typically colored in shades of green, brown, or black. They spend the majority of their lives underground, where they feed on tree roots, before emerging as adults to mate and lay eggs.
Cicadas produce their distinctive calls using a specialized organ called a tymbal, which is located on the underside of their abdomen. The tymbal is made up of a series of ribs and muscles that can rapidly contract and relax, producing a loud, buzzing sound. The sound is amplified by the cicada’s hollow abdomen, which acts as a resonating chamber. Different species of cicadas produce different calls, which can range from soft, musical tones to loud, buzzing calls that can be heard from several hundred yards away. The calls of cicadas are a familiar sound in many parts of the world, and are often associated with the hot, lazy days of summer.
As larger insects with plump bodies, they can be a good source of nutrients for many animals.
Birds play a crucial role in maintaining cicada populations through their insectivorous diet. They can be a great source of nutrition not only for adult birds, but an abundant food source to feed their young as well. Crows, jays, buntings, shrikes, flycatchers, orioles, woodpeckers, owls, robins and warblers are just a few of the birds known to eat them.
Ants are much smaller than cicadas, but don’t underestimate these creatures. They’re social insects who can work together to take down larger prey. Despite being small, worker ants exhibit remarkable strength as they effortlessly carry loads that are many times heavier than their own weight.
With hundreds of them in a colony, these creatures work together to protect their territory and find food. Once in flight the ant can’t catch them, but if their wings are injured and they can’t get off the ground, or during their vulnerable molting phase before they can fly away, the ants can strike.
Mantises are one of the most skilled cicada hunters you might encounter. These ambush predators lie in wait or stealthily stalk their prey, rapidly grasping them with their enlarged forelegs.
While arthropods and smaller insects are the primary food source for most mantises, some individuals prefer consuming prey that exceeds their own size. They can store prey in their foregut, allowing them to digest it at a later time, making them effective at feeding intermittently.
Although most cicada-eating animals live above ground, moles are among the underground creatures that consume these insects. Moles dig powerfully with their forelimbs, enabling them to play a crucial role in soil aeration and maintain a delicate balance within the ecosystem.
Moles typically consume earthworms, grubs and other soil invertebrates as a regular diet. While it is unlikely a mole would eat cicadas in their adult form above the ground, if they come upon the cicada larva underground, they will be happy to gobble them up.
5. Cicada killer wasp
The cicada killer wasp, is a large wasp species with long slender wings and yellow body stripes. They immobilize cicadas by using their venomous sting, which causes paralysis. The cicadas is then dragged back to the wasps burrow in the ground, where it will become food for the next generation as the wasp larvae hatch.
Bats, which are the only mammals capable of sustained flight, primarily feed on insects. Many of these flying mammals have specialized diets, with some eating mostly fruit and nectar and others, like insectivorous bats, living off of a diet of insects. As agile hunters, bats are very capable of chasing cicadas.
Since insectivorous bats have a high metabolism and expend significant energy during flight, they can consume more than 120 percent of their body weight daily. Bats are also important in controlling insect populations and reducing mosquito-borne diseases.
You might find it surprising that many mammals also include cicadas as a part of their diet. Aside from moles and bats, there are also other mammals you may see feeding on them, including skunks, opossums, raccoons, bobcats, and even dogs and cats. Even though cicadas don’t make up the main portion of their diet, these animals still consider these insects to be a delectable snack that offers them a valuable source of protein. During times when large numbers of cicadas emerge all at once, they can be an easy and abundant food that many animals will take advantage of.
Spiders are known for their ability to capture and consume a wide variety of prey, and cicadas are no exception. Some species of spiders, such as orb-weaver spiders and wolf spiders, have been observed feeding on cicadas that they have captured in their webs or while hunting on the ground.
Cicadas are a valuable food source for spiders, providing them with a source of protein and nutrients. However, capturing a large and noisy cicada can be a challenge for spiders, and they must use their speed, agility, and web-spinning abilities to successfully catch and consume their prey.
Do humans eat cicadas?
Surprisingly, humans can safely consume cicadas. Humans have been incorporating insects into their diets for thousands of years, engaging in the ancient practice known as entomophagy. Since cicadas are a nutritious and sustainable source of protein and minerals, they make a viable food choice except for the following:
- Individuals with shellfish allergies
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women (due to potential mercury accumulation)
- Young children (due to the risk of mercury)
- Those prone to gout (due to possible flare-ups)
- “What to Know About Eating Cicadas”, A. Anderson, Nourish by WebMD, June 28, 2022, webmd.com