Cicadas: The Perfect Bug

Bill Reynolds
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Open Minds Teen Science Cafe, Raleigh, North Carolina

Description

We hear about cicadas on the news, and we hear their song all summer long, but how much do you really know about these bugs? Bill Reynolds, the Curator, Coordinator, & Containment Director of the Arthropod Zoo at the Museum, knows a lot! At this Teen Science Café, Bill discussed why he considers cicadas the perfect bug and taught participants how to distinguish the 21 species that live in North Carolina.

Hands on Activity

Cicada ‘Dating’ Game: Participants were given a card with the name of one of four species of cicada. Half of the participants were given cards with the male cicadas’ call, while the other half were given cards with the female cicadas’ answering call. Participants walked around the cafe making their calls and answers to see if they could match themselves up with a partner of the correct species.

About Cicadas

The cicadas (/sɪˈkɑːdə/ or /sɪˈkeɪdə/), are a superfamily, the Cicadoidea, of insects in the order Hemiptera (true bugs). They are in the suborder Auchenorrhyncha[a], along with smaller jumping bugs such as leafhoppers and froghoppers. It is divided into the Tettigarctidae, with two species in Australia, and Cicadidae, with more than 1,300 species described from around the world; many undescribed species remain.

They have prominent eyes set wide apart, short antennae, and membranous front wings. They have an exceptionally loud song, produced not by stridulation but by vibrating drumlike tymbals rapidly. The earliest fossil Cicadomorpha appeared in the Upper Permian period; extant species occur all around the world in temperate to tropical climates. They typically live in trees, feeding on sap, and laying their eggs in a slit in the bark. Most cicadas are cryptic, singing at night to avoid predators. The periodic cicadas spend most of their lives as underground nymphs, only emerging after 13 or 17 years, most likely to reduce losses by satiating their predators.

These bugs have been featured in literature since the time of Homer’s Iliad, and as motifs in art from the Chinese Shang dynasty. They have been used in myths and folklore to represent carefree living and immortality.

Hands on Activity

Cicada ‘Dating’ Game: Participants were given a card with the name of one of four species of cicada. Half of the participants were given cards with the male cicadas’ call, while the other half were given cards with the female cicadas’ answering call. Participants walked around the cafe making their calls and answers to see if they could match themselves up with a partner of the correct species.