Natural ambient noise is like a hidden choir, the backing noise to every experience in the great outdoors. The percussion of water droplets hitting leaves, the chirping of birds, the howl of wind, and of course the drone and rhythm of the insect community are integral to our sense of place in the wilderness. However, amongst all the buzzing of crickets, bumblebees, and flies one sound pervades. This sound is of course the racatuous drone of the superfamily Cicadoidea. Cicadas, (also known as Harvest Flies, Jar Flies, and incorrectly as Locusts) are a very loud insect of the order Hemiptera (true bug) who live in almost every part of the world.
Cicadas are notable in their life cycle because they spend most of their adolescence underground, feeding off roots as “nymphs” before emerging to make a lot of noise and hopefully find a mate. These nymphs will feed off juices sucked from the roots of perennial plants in order to survive. It is common for nymphs to undergo five molts over the course of several years before reaching maturity and emerging. It is then that male cicadas will produce their famous sound to attract a mate. They use membranes in their abdomen called “tymbals” to produce this famous, obnoxiously loud sound. Cicadas will usually live five to six weeks above ground before dying. Females, upon impregnation, will use their ovipositor (a tube like appendage) to create small grooves to lay their eggs in woody tissues of plants. The groove allows for easy access to the fluids inside the branch for the emerging cicadas to feed on, as well as providing the younglings with shelter. Flagging occurs if the grooves, along with the baby cicadas’ hunger kills the branch. This will often turn the leaves brown. Upon reaching a certain size the infant cicada will fall to the ground and bury itself, beginning the cycle once again.
North American cicadas are broken into two categories: annual/dog day cicadas and periodical cicadas. Annual cicadas are known as such because groups of them emerge every summer and are responsible for the drone that so many southerners and midwesterners associate with late summertime (specifically late June to August). Periodical cicadas differ from their cousins as they emerge periodically every 13 to 17 years in sync with the rest of their brood in great numbers and proceed to make even more noise and partake in even more sex (often times between the months of May and July). This page will focus particularly on the seven annual species of cicadas found in Missouri, along with the few broods of periodical cicadas who emerge in and around the state.
A Brief History of Humanity and Cicada:
Cicadas have coexisted with humans for our entire existence and predate us significantly. Fossil records show that the first Cicadas appeared in the Upper Permian (298.9-251.9 million years ago). Cicadas are found in such classic works as Homer’s The Iliad, as well as somewhat prominently in Chinese art from the Shang Dynasty. The nymphs have been classically eaten in China where they are commonly served deep-fried in a dish known as Shandong Cuisine. Species of Cicada are frequently discovered even today. There are currently 190 species in North America, and over 3,390 species worldwide. Just recently, as of 2019, a new subfamily of Cicada was added called Derotettiginae (the others being Tibicininae, Tettigomyiinae, Cicadettinae, Cicadinae [only the last two of which are endemic to Missouri in some form]) (Simon).
Here’s a link to a collection of Chinese art including Cicada:
*note you will need to make an esri account to view them* https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=88414bd3316345c8a1d3286aedd168aa
General Characteristics of All Cicada
- Possess two pairs of membranous wings
- Two prominent compound eyes on either side of head
- Three simple eyes or oscelli
- Size can range from 2-5 cm
The complete binomial nomenclature for the genre of cicadas that inhabit Missouri are as follows:
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Characteristics: multicellular eukaryotic, consumes organic material, breathes oxygen, able to move, and reproduce sexually.
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Characteristics: Invertebrate, presence of exoskeleton, a segmented body, paired jointed appendages
- Class: Insecta
- Characteristics: Hexapedal (six legs), three part body (head, thorax, abdomen), presence of compound eyes and one pair of antennae.
- Order: Hemiptera
- Characteristics: Presence of oscelli, presence of some form of piercing or sucking mouth parts such as a proboscis or rostrum, majority have 2 pairs of wings.
- Superamily: Cicadoidea
- Characteristics: Noticeable eyes set far apart on either side of head, shorter antennae, as well as membranous front wings. Presence of tymbal allows for iconic sound production.
- Family: Cicadidae
- Only two species of Cicadoidea are not in this family, while the remaining three thousand are. If your curious about the other two, they are in the family Tettigarctidae and inhabit Australia.
- Subfamily: Cicadinae (for Annual Cicadas), Cicadettinae (for Periodical Cicadas)
- Cicadinae contains the “translucent cicada”, who are characterized by their darker colors and lack the wing marking characteristic of other subfamilies. Cicadenttinae contains a number of sub-tribes of genera from around the world, including the genus Magicicada which contains the famed North American periodical cicadas.
- Genus: Neotibicen or Megatibicen (for North American Annual Cicadas), Magicicada (for Periodical Cicadas)
- Neotibicen (1-2 inches) to be smaller than Megatibicen (Approximately 2 inches), besides this they are similar in that their forewings are approximately twice the length of their hindwings, and they both use their beaks to drink from the xylem of plants. They both also follow similar emergent schedules, laying their young inside woody appendages, having them fall to the ground when hatched, develop underground for multiple years, feeding on roots before emerging in yearly groups to mate. Magicicada are most notable for their group’s uncanny ability to emerge in unison. All broods emerge in periods of 13 or 17 years.
Seven Dog Day Species in Missouri:
*Notice that the physical descriptions given below are subject to vary a decent amount within and between species and that song is actually the most defining difference between each species.
**Note all distribution maps are hand drawn by me and are subject to human error.
The Robinson’s Cicada (Neotibicen robinsoniana) possesses clear wings with dark lines, a black abdomen with a white line across the back with a black stripe on the underside, a dark green and black patterned thorax, a noticeably black face, and large black eyes on either side of its head. They inhabit specific areas of Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, southern Ohio, and Missouri. They have a noticeably patchy distribution across these areas, only appearing in small areas of low human population in each state. They sing in short, buzzsaw like bursts that crescendo up before decreasing to silence all within an approximately 1.5 second period.
Click here for more info and to hear the sound of the Robinson’s Cicada
Scissors Grinder Cicada:
The Scissors Grinder Cicada possesses clear wings with dark lines, black abdomen, emerald green and black patterned thorax, white lines on its sides, and large murky brown eyes on either side of its head. They inhabit large swaths of land in the west and east with a noticeable gap in the center. The disparity between the two groups has led them to be reclassified as two different species. The eastern variant (Neotibicen winnemanna) ranges from New York south to Alabama. While the western counterpart (Neotibicen pruinosus pruinosus) lives in an approximately square area from Michigan to eastern Nebraska down south to Louisiana and north eastern Texas. They are found everywhere from woodlands to suburbs. Their song is notable for being rather long (20 seconds or so) and having a continual pulsating that slowly increases in frequency before tapering off.
Click here for more info and to hear the sound of the Scissors Grinder Cicada
The Buzzsaw Cicada (Neotibicen lyricen) has clear wings with dark lines that start as an emerald green towards the body, black and gold patterned abdomen, emerald green and black patterned thorax, slightly smaller than the upper two in terms of eye size. Color can however range to even be reddish brown in places. The insect possesses a dark stripe on the underside of its abdomen. It is notable for “playing dead” when handled by tucking its legs into itself. It prefers woody to rural habitats. The song of the Buzzsaw Cicada is a continuous drone for thirty seconds or more and is notable for not having a discernible pulse unlike many other songs produced by its cousins. The sound increases and decreases in noise level significantly during its run.
Click here for more info and to hear the sound of the Lyric/Buzzsaw Cicada
Northern Dusk Singing Cicada:
The Northern Dusk Singing Cicada (Megatibicen auletes) has clear wings with some brown and yellow accents, tan on its underside, a black and silver abdomen, and a black and yellow/green thorax. It is often covered in a gray, powdery substance referred to as bloom which is likely mildew from plants. This cicada is the largest in North America, growing to be approximately two inches in length. It inhabits pretty much the entire east coast and south, however it lives as far north as Michigan, with a notable lacking within and northeast of eastern Tennessee. The insect often lives in non-mountainous woodlands. It produces a lower pitch compared to other cicadas in a drone that lasts about twenty seconds. The sound resembles the phoneme “drr drr drr”. These “drrs” will increase in intensity and frequency before climaxing and cutting off abruptly.
Click here for more info and to hear the sound of the Northern Dusk Singing Cicada
The Swamp Cicada (Neotibicen tibicen tibicen) has clear wings with black and dark emerald green accenting towards the body, a black abdomen with gold splashes (but less so than the Lyric Cicada), and a leafy green head with white spots on either side where the abdomen meets the plate behind the head (pronotum). It is found in the entire South and East Coast region, from mid Florida, north to Pennsylvania and west Missouri. It is notably only found in southeast Missouri. It is found in marshy areas, frequently in low-to-the-ground shrubs. It has a song that lasts about 10-15 seconds and features a soft noise akin perhaps to that of a sprinkler head rapidly spraying water before slowly increasing to a louder and more abrasive drone that increases in sound before tapering off and ending.
Click here for more info and to hear the sound of the Swamp Cicada
The Walker’s Cicada (Megatibicen pronotalis walkeri) has clear wings with dark and leafy green coloring, a dark lined abdomen, and a plant green and brownish head and thorax. It often possesses grayish or bluish eyes. It is known for being one of the largest and loudest cicadas. They primarily inhabit the longitudinal shaft of states containing Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri but are found in all the states that border these states as well. These insects particularly enjoy lowland areas near rivers. Sound wise: what starts as a brisk hum quickly rises to a drone interspersed with equal pulsations. These will grow in intensity before tapering off and then starting again. The song itself lasts about 45 seconds and males are known to synchronize with each other if nearby.
Click here for more info and to hear the sound of the Walker’s Cicada
The Prairie Cicada (Neotibicen dorsatus) has shaded wings, with both thorax and abdomen black, with hints of rustic orange as well as orange legs and eyes. As its name suggests, this insect thrives in prairie land unlike many others of its family who prefer woody areas. Destruction of the American prairie has led to its species’ population sharply decreasing. It’s song is described as a “long, steady, rattling, dry, buzzy song [that] lasts about a minute before tapering away into an electric buzz.” (MDC)
Unfortunately there is no page I could find with a recording of this particular cicada, nor a map of its distribution.
Periodical Cicadas of Missouri:
In the United States there are a total of 3 broods of 13 year cicadas and 12 broods of 17 year cicadas. These broods all contain species within the genus Magicicada. All of these broods are located in the eastern half of the United States and four often emerge in parts of Missouri. This is limited to 2 of the 13 year broods and 2 of the 17 year broods.
All periodical cicada broods have been assigned a number. However, due to the extinction of some and mistaken labelling on the parts of taxonomists the numbers don’t hold much of a numerical significance beyond identification in the modern day.
Emergences: 2014, 2031
Location: Northern border of Missouri
Species ibncluded in Brood III: Magicicada septendecim, Magicicada cassini, and Magicicada septendecula
Emergences: 1998, 2015, 2032
Location: Western Missouri
Species incluided in Brood IV: Magicicada cassini, Magicicada septendeci, and Magicicada septendecula
Emergences: 1998, 2011, 2024
Location: Most of the state
Species included in Brood XIX: Magicicada neotredecim, Magicicada tredecim, Magicicada tredecassini, and Magicicada tredecula
Emergences: 2002, 2015, 2018
Location: Southeast corner of Missouri
Species included in Brood XXIII: Magicicada tredecim, Magicicada neotredecim, Magicicada tredecassini, and Magicicada tredecula
Cicadas are relatively harmless to the natural world and serve as a pivotal point in many creatures’ food chains. They are consumed by “people, pets, rodents, marsupials, reptiles, birds, fish, insects, [and] arachnids” (Cicada Mania). However, when they emerge in mass, particularly the periodical cicadas, their egg laying habits, as well as need for xylem fluid can leave woody plants in bad conditions.
“Annual Cicadas.” MDC Discover Nature.
“Cicada News, Facts, Lifecycle & Sounds from Cicada Mania.” Cicada Insect News, Facts, Life Cycle, Photos & Sounds | Cicada Mania.
Chris Simon, Eric R L Gordon, M S Moulds, Jeffrey A Cole, Diler Haji, Alan R Lemmon, Emily Moriarty Lemmon, Michelle Kortyna, Katherine Nazario, Elizabeth J Wade, Russell C Meister, Geert Goemans, Stephen M Chiswell, Pablo Pessacq, Claudio Veloso, John P McCutcheon, Piotr Łukasik, Off-target capture data, endosymbiont genes and morphology reveal a relict lineage that is sister to all other singing cicadas, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, , blz120.
Hemiptera – Bugs, Aphids, Cicadas
Lemonick, Michael. “The Song of the Cicada.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017.
“Lyric Cicada.” Songs of Insects, 6 Aug. 2017.
Moulds, Maxwell S. “Chapter 46.” Encyclopedia of Insects, edited by Vincent H. Resha and Ring T. Cardé, Second ed., 2009, pp. 163–164.
“Northern Dusk-Singing Cicada.” Songs of Insects, 5 Sept. 2018.
“Periodical Cicadas.” Missouri Department of Conservation.
“Periodical Cicadas in Missouri.” University of Missouri Extension.
“Robinson’s Cicada.” Songs of Insects, 2 Aug. 2015.
“Scissor-Grinder Cicada.” Songs of Insects, 6 Aug. 2017.
“Swamp Cicada.” Songs of Insects, 2 Aug. 2015.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Cicada.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 24 July 2019.
“Walker’s Cicada.” Songs of Insects, 5 Sept. 2017.