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Where Do Cicadas Live? (Examples w/ Facts)

Cicadas are nature’s delightful weirdos whose symphony can echo through the air when the sun sets on a summer evening. Their songs are unique and unmistakable, but have you ever wondered where do cicadas live? In this article, we’ll take a look at the fascinating world of cicada habitats and learn about where these buzzing insects live.

Where Do Cicadas Live?

Cicadas are found on nearly every continent, except for Antarctica, with periodical cicadas being endemic to eastern North America. These insects thrive in a variety of habitats, from lush forests to arid deserts and even urban areas.

However, they are most abundant in tropical and subtropical regions where the climate is warm and conducive to their life cycle. There are over 3,000 species of cicadas, and they can be categorized into two main groups: annual cicadas and periodical cicadas.

Periodical Cicadas and Their Habitats

Periodical cicadas, unlike their annual counterparts, have an extraordinary life cycle that spans 13 or 17 years. These insects emerge from the ground in massive numbers. 

Their habitats are often wooded areas where they lay eggs on the branches of trees. When the nymphs hatch, they drop to the ground and burrow, beginning their long underground journey.

Underground Life

Cicada holes
Cicada holes | image by U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

One of the most intriguing aspects of cicadas is their underground lifestyle. Nymphs, the juvenile form of cicadas, spend the majority of their lives beneath the surface. They tunnel through the soil, feeding on the sap from plant roots.

This adaptation provides them with protection from predators and temperature fluctuations. When the time comes for their emergence, nymphs crawl to the surface, shed their exoskeletons, and transform into iconic winged adults.

Here are some examples of the habitats that cicadas live in. 

1. Forest Canopies

Cicada drinks tree sap
Cicada drinks tree sap | image by Sid Mosdell via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

One of the most common habitats for cicadas is the forest canopy. These insects are well adapted to life in trees, where they feed on the sap from xylem vessels.

Cicadas are equipped with specialized mouthparts called stylets that allow them to tap into the tree’s vascular system, gaining access to essential nutrients.

Their strong front legs are designed for digging into tree bark, which helps them during their molting process, and in providing a secure perch in the treetops.

2. Grasslands and Shrubby Areas

While forests are prime real estate for many cicada species, some prefer the open spaces of grasslands and shrubby areas. These habitats often provide a mix of vegetation that cicadas can feed on, and since there are no dense tree canopies in this environment, the cicadas have different ecological pressures than the ones living in the tree canopies.

For example, cicadas living in grasslands and shrubby areas may have to rely on their strong jumping abilities to avoid potential predators.

3. Wetlands and Riparian Zones

Cicadas are also known to inhabit wetlands and riparian zones, which are areas near rivers, lakes, and other water bodies. The moisture-rich environment supports the growth of various plant species that cicadas can feed on. These habitats may offer a different range of predators and challenges, but cicadas have evolved to thrive in these conditions.

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4. Urban Environments

Periodical cicada on fence
Periodical cicada on fence | image by Dan Keck via Flickr

In recent years, cicadas have been making appearances in urban areas as well. The abundance of trees and plants in parks and gardens can provide suitable habitats for these insects.

Urban cicadas may face distinct challenges, such as exposure to pollution and artificial lights, but they continue to adapt to their surroundings and make their characteristic sounds heard throughout the cityscape.

Where do cicadas live in the United States? 

In the United States, cicadas are predominantly found in the eastern and central regions. The annual species make an appearance every year, whereas the periodical types emerge every 13 or 17 years, offering a distinctive display in the insect world.

Cicadas are known for their loud mating calls. These calls can reach up to 100 decibels, which is comparable to the noise level of a chainsaw or a jackhammer. It’s a unique aspect that adds to the remarkable phenomenon of their mass emergence years.

These insects tend to cluster in large groups when emerging, and they are notable for the synchronized songs that they perform to attract mates. This is a common occurrence in states that have a substantial cicada population.

States with periodical cicadas 

Maryland: Hosting various 17-year cicada broods, Maryland experiences significant cicada activity, particularly during the large brood emergences.

Indiana: Home to both 13- and 17-year cicada broods, Indiana witnesses notable emergences of these groups, offering an opportunity to observe this natural event.

Ohio: This state is a frequent host to different broods of 17-year cicadas, with various regions experiencing high cicada concentrations during emergence years.

Illinois: Here, several cycles of both 13- and 17-year cicadas emerge, marking periods of high cicada activity in different regions of the state.

Tennessee: Particularly during the 13-year cicada emergences, Tennessee observes substantial cicada activity in certain areas.

Kentucky: In Kentucky, especially in central and eastern regions, cicada emergences are a common phenomenon, with several broods making an appearance in cycles.

Virginia: This state experiences the emergence of various 17-year cicada broods, particularly in the northern regions, making it a state with significant cicada activity.

New York: In the central and southern parts, New York witnesses the emergence of 17-year cicada broods, including Brood II and Brood VII, in certain cycles.

North Carolina: North Carolina is a host to both 13- and 17-year cicada broods, witnessing substantial cicada populations during their emergence years.

Georgia: In northern Georgia, particularly during the 13-year cicada cycles, there is significant cicada activity in various regions.

Why Do Cicadas Leave Behind Their Shells?

Cicadas leave their shells as part of their natural life cycle. Cicadas have a unique development process that involves distinct stages: egg, nymph, and adult. When a cicada egg hatches, a nymph emerges.

This nymph burrows into the ground and attaches itself to plant roots, where it feeds on sap for several years, depending on the species. During this period, the nymph molts multiple times, shedding its exoskeleton or shell each time it grows.

When the nymph reaches its final molt, it transforms into an adult cicada. The adult cicada emerges from the old nymphal exoskeleton, leaving behind the discarded shell. This process is known as molting or ecdysis.

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The newly emerged adult cicada is soft and pale initially but quickly hardens and darkens as its exoskeleton dries and strengthens.

Once the adult cicada is fully developed and its wings have expanded and hardened, it is ready to fly, mate, and continue the cycle by laying eggs that will eventually hatch into nymphs.

The abandoned shells of the cicadas are left clinging to trees or scattered on the ground and are a common sight during cicada emergence periods.

How To Find Cicadas And Their Shells

To find cicadas and their shells, start by quickly researching the local species’ emergence patterns and prime seasons in your region. A quick Google search should do it. Then look for mature trees, especially deciduous ones, as cicadas often inhabit their branches.

During their active periods, listen for the distinct buzzing calls of male cicadas. Once you’ve identified a potential location, search the ground around trees for discarded shells, as well as on the tree trunk.

Sources:

  • “Cicadas: Facts about the loud, seasonal insects”, Mindy Weisberger, Live Science, Sept 29, 2021, livescience.com
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