Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Cicada on the Sidewalk: Not Quite Dead September 9, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Bugs,Fall,Seasons,Summer — saltthesandbox @ 1:25 pm
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Adult cicadas face a rough transition from nymph to adult and are always in danger of being eaten. However, quite a few cicadas do survive to mate and lay eggs. By late summer these survivors start to die of — what else can we call it? — old age.

So, a few days ago Aaron found our first half-dead Annual Cicada of the year. It just lay there on the sidewalk, legs folded up, as if it was asleep:

The dying Annual Cicada just lay there with its legs folded under its body.

The dying Annual Cicada just lay there with its legs folded under its body.

When I picked it up, it started to buzz, vibrating my finger tips. But stopped after two seconds. Turning it over, we could see some body parts involved in making the buzzing sound (red arrow), plus the long, pointed beak it sometimes uses to suck sap from plants (blue arrow):

Underside of the Annual Cicada. The red arrow points to the visible part of the body that makes the buzzing sound. The blue arrow points to the tube its sometimes uses to suck plant juice (and occasionally jab a threatening animal -- or human).

Underside of the Annual Cicada. The red arrow points to a protective covering (operculum) for the sound-producing organs. The blue arrow points to the tube (beak) that cicadas use to suck plant juice and occasionally jab a threatening animal -- or human.

Aaron and I decided to leave the dying cicada in peace. It was gone the next day, so it may have been found by a hungry bird or curious human.


As noted in the caption, the part you see under the body is only protective — it doesn’t make the sound. The part that actually vibrates to make the buzz is up under the wings, and the muscles that cause it to vibrate are inside the body. If you’re interested in knowing more, there’s a detailed, illustrated description of cicada anatomy here. There’s a good technical description of how cicadas make sound here.


Here’s an interesting observation about humans and cicadas. Although most years Annual Cicadas start singing in late June or early July, I’ve noticed that my Kids’ Cicada Hunt website doesn’t experience a big jump in visitation until 4 to 6 weeks later — when the cicadas start to die. I guess hearing cicadas doesn’t inspire much interest, but a cicada in the hand is worth a visit to cicada website or two. (My site is usually on the second or third page of results.) For comparison, my website statistics can tell when the first Cicada Killer Wasps emerge within a few days. The sight of a giant wasp inspires lots of folks to head for their computers, where they often find this picture of five-year-old Ethan holding dead Cicada Killers.

For a more complete analysis of when people visit my cicada website, check out this old CicadaBlog post.


4 Responses to “Cicada on the Sidewalk: Not Quite Dead”

  1. Wow! Amazing to get such a close-up view, and especially interesting to learn that they make their sounds inside their bodies! Thanks, as usual, for the fun and informative post.

  2. C.C. Says:

    I say “Wow,” too.
    Thanks so much!
    Found your wordpressblog searching for images of Cicadas to show students who will glaze their Cicada tiles for a community mural this week. Our New Mexican, upper Rio Grande Valley Cicada has different coloring, for sure.
    Your blog is tres cool.

  3. C.C. Says:

    Ours are Tibicen marginatus (in our Cottonwood Bosque) – is tan and white (with some black), body length 35 mm. Found out that eastern U.S. Cicada is of genus Magicicada.

  4. Margin Wight Says:

    Thanks for this bit of data. I see these dead cicadas on my morning stroll and it is good to know a little more. I’m going to link this post to my own blog for future reference.

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