Back in the summer, the ecologists at Conservation Halton spotted a cicada shedding its skin outside the administration office. We kept an eye on the insect throughout the day, took photos as it emerged and ended up with a snapshot of the process of metamorphosis.

As with most insects, the cicada begins its life as an egg, which the female lays in a tree limb. Once the egg hatches, the young cicada feed on the tree fluid, known as xylem, using its piercing, beak-like mouth to suck the fluid out of the tree. Then, when it is ready, the cicada drops down to the ground and digs through the earth to find roots to feed on. This is where they spend the next two to 17 years of their life.

After spending years underground, the cicada emerges as a nymph, which is an insect in its immature form. The curious phenomenon of the cicada life cycle is not fully understood but their emergence from the earth seems to be related to soil temperature and moisture. Once the cicada has emerged, it will climb the nearest tree and shed its skin. Its crumpled wings inflate with fluid and its outer skin hardens and darkens, turning into camouflage. With its wings and body developed, the cicada is ready to begin life as an adult. Depending on the species, the adult phase of a cicada usually lasts just one month. This is when you will hear them singing in the trees.

There are more than 190 species of cicadas in North America and more than 3,000 species around the world. Most cicadas are annual, periodical or protoperiodical. Annual cicadas emerge every year, periodical cicadas emerge all at once after a long period of time and protoperiodical cicadas emerge each year, with a mass emergence every few years.

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Last modified: May 28, 2018

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