Cicadas are insects known for their noisy mating calls, typically heard during warm summer months. These fascinating creatures emerge en masse after spending a significant portion of their lives underground as nymphs. With several types of cicadas found across the globe, you may be curious if they pose any danger to humans or animals.
Fear not, for cicadas are generally harmless creatures that do not bite or sting. Despite their sometimes-intimidating appearance, these insects are not venomous or poisonous. In fact, they serve as a food source for many organisms, including birds and mammals. While it is possible for pets to experience an upset stomach if they consume a large number of cicadas, ingesting a small quantity typically poses no risk.
Although cicadas are not harmful to humans and pets, they can cause potential damage to young trees during their breeding season. However, this type of damage can usually be mitigated by taking simple precautions, such as using tree netting or delaying tree transplanting. Overall, cicadas are more of a fascinating natural phenomenon than a legitimate concern for people, their pets, or the environment.
Do Cicadas Bite
Males vs Females
Cicadas, both male and female, are known to be harmless creatures. They do not possess any mechanism for biting or stinging humans or animals. Males and females can be differentiated by:
- Males have louder, more noticeable calls, used to attract females
- Females have a blade-like organ called an ovipositor, used for laying eggs
Bite or Stinger
Cicadas neither bite nor sting. To clarify further, let’s compare cicadas with bees and wasps, which do have stingers:
|Creature||Has Bite||Has Stinger|
Key points about cicadas:
- Do not bite or sting
- Harmless to humans and animals
- No known toxic chemicals
- Males make loud calls
- Females use ovipositor for egg-laying
Despite their loud noise, cicadas are not dangerous and should not be feared. They provide a valuable source of food for various wildlife in their natural habitats.
Cicada Behavior and Life Cycle
Periodical vs Annual Cicadas
There are two types of cicadas: periodical cicadas and annual cicadas. Periodical cicadas, like Brood X, emerge every 13 to 17 years, whereas annual cicadas emerge every year.
|Emerge every 13-17 years||Emerge every year|
|Characteristic of Brood X||More common|
Cicada nymphs live underground, feeding on tree roots for 2 to 5 years. The duration of their underground life depends on factors like food availability and environmental conditions.
- Underground life duration: 2-5 years
- Factors affecting duration: food availability, environmental conditions
Mating and Noise
When it’s time to mate, male cicadas attract females with loud, shrill buzzing noises. These noises can reach high decibel levels, making cicadas one of the loudest insects.
- Mating: loud, shrill buzzing noises
- Decibel level: very high
In conclusion, cicadas are fascinating insects with a unique life cycle and mating behaviors. While they can be quite loud, they do not pose any danger in terms of biting or stinging humans or pets.
Impact on Plants and Humans
Feeding on Plant Sap
Cicadas feed on plant sap using their straw-like mouthparts, mainly targeting tree roots and stems. They cause minimal damage to plants, as their feeding process doesn’t harm mature trees significantly. Young saplings, however, might suffer from cicada feeding. A possible solution is to lay a ¼ inch netting over them for protection.
Example of plants affected by cicadas:
- Young saplings
- Small shrubs
Comparison Table: Mature Trees vs. Young Saplings
|Mature Trees||Young Saplings|
|Cicada Feeding Impact||Minimal damage||Potential harm|
Potential Risks to Pets
Cicadas pose no direct danger to pets like dogs and cats. They neither bite nor sting and are not poisonous or venomous. Pets might eat cicadas out of curiosity, which could temporarily cause an upset stomach or vomiting. Generally, there’s no need to worry if a pet consumes a few cicadas.
Key cicada features:
- Don’t bite or sting
- Not poisonous or venomous
- Harmless to humans
- Can cause temporary discomfort if ingested by pets
Brood X US Regions
Periodical cicadas are known for their mass emergence in different regions across eastern North America. One of the largest and most notable broods is Brood X, which covers a wide area across several states. Some of the states and regions impacted by Brood X include:
- New York
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- District of Columbia
- West Virginia
State Specific Information
In each state, cicadas might be encountered in various densities and environments. For example:
- In Michigan, cicadas emerge primarily in the southern part of the state.
- In Georgia, the emergence is concentrated in the northern region.
Below is a comparison table of a few states with their cicada emergence regions.
|New York||Hudson Valley|
|Ohio||Throughout the state|
Cicadas are generally harmless, as they do not bite or sting. However, their loud noise can be considered a mild nuisance. It is important to remember that these insects play a vital role in their ecosystems, providing nourishment for various predators.
Prevention and Solutions
Physical barriers can be an effective way to protect plants and trees from cicadas. For example, placing a ¼ inch netting over young shrubs during cicada season (early May to September) can help prevent female cicadas from laying eggs on them.
- Environmentally friendly
- No chemicals involved
- Can be labor-intensive to install
- May not be visually appealing
It’s important to note that cicadas are not generally considered dangerous and do not bite or sting. However, if you still want to use pesticides as a control method:
- Choose pesticides labeled for use on cicadas
- Follow the product’s instructions carefully
- Apply pesticides only when needed, as excessive use can harm beneficial insects and the environment
- Can be effective in controlling cicada populations
- May provide quick results
- Can harm non-target organisms
- May contaminate water sources
Environmentally Friendly Approaches
If you prefer a more eco-conscious approach, there are several options to consider:
- Encourage birds and other natural predators by providing suitable habitat and food (e.g., bird feeders)
- Remove leaves, twigs, and branches where cicadas have laid eggs to interrupt their life cycle
- Enable a healthy ecosystem to help naturally keep cicada populations in check
- Remember that occasional cicada eating by pets is not a cause for worry, and cicadas can even be part of the diet for some animals
|Approach||Effectiveness||Eco-Friendliness||Ease of Use|
|Environmentally Friendly Approaches||Moderate||High||Easy|
Cicada Species and Research
There are several Magicicada species, including:
- Magicicada septendecim: The 17-year cicada with a striking black and orange appearance.
- Magicicada cassini: Another 17-year cicada with a mostly black appearance.
- Magicicada septendecula: A 13-year cicada with a smaller size than its counterparts.
These cicadas are known for their synchronized emergence after spending years underground. They rely on soil temperatures to indicate when they should emerge1.
Gene Kritsky and Entomology
Gene Kritsky is an entomologist who has conducted extensive research on cicadas. His work includes the study of cicada biology, behavior and emergence patterns. Some key findings from Kritsky’s research include:
- Soil temperatures play a crucial role in cicada emergence.
- Nature influences such as weather and predation have an impact on cicada populations.
Kritsky has also shared videos on cicada behavior and emergence to educate the public about these fascinating insects.
|Feature||Magicicada Species||Other Cicada Species|
|Lifespan (underground)||13 or 17 years||3 to 5 years|
|Appearance||Black & orange||Green or camouflaged|
|Role of soil temperatures||High||Moderate|
Cicadas pose no direct threat to humans, as they do not bite or sting2. They play an essential role in nature, providing food for various wildlife species.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Apache Cicada
Location: Peoria, AZ USA
August 8, 2010 1:55 pm
8/7/10 heard this guy buzzing in a palo verde and searched him out. I know its a cicada but was wondering exactly what kind.
Your Cicada is in the genus Dicerprocta, and we found a nice posting on BugGuide that explains how to properly identify the three species in the genus found in Arizona. In a comment, Jerry Bunker quotes a 1928 publication by William T. Davis that includes this description: “Diceroprocta apache Hind margin of pronotum or collar yellowish, or straw colored; eyes reddish and membranes at base of both pair of wings pale; often straw-colored. Pubescence at base of abdomen golden.” We believe your have Diceroprocta apache based on the description and photo, but it has no common name, though Apache Cicada does seem very appropriate. We would like to see someone propose Apache Cicada as the official common name, and for now, we will label it as such.
How exactly do you go about suggesting the name, or who would I send the suggestion too?
We will research your request and provide a response.
Eric Eaton responds
I know the Entomological Society of America has a committee on Common Names, but generally they have been loathe to bother with any species that are not of great economic importance (especially invasive species from overseas). So, good luck with that. Otherwise, official common names have been “certified” by the Dragonfly Society of the Americas and the Lepidopterist’s Society, maybe the North American Butterfly Association.
The point is that common names for non-pests tend to be assigned wholesale to other groups that ‘suddenly’ become popular to folks. Otherwise, it is an operation in randomness that sometimes does lead to consensus (and I do believe I have heard “Apache Cicada” applied to that species before).
Thanks guys. I know you are busy so the fact that you took the time to answer my questions means a lot.
Letter 2 – Another Periodical Cicada emerging either early or late
Location: Wompatuck State Park, Hingham, MA. 6/30/06 My 3 year old spied this critter in its hole made on the rocky trail. At the time I had no idea of what it was so extracting it from its burrow was out of the question. I’ve since learned that it is a cicada emerging from the ground. Thought a photo or 2 might be worthy of your cicada page.
Jeanine, Gabe 5, Jake 3
Hi Jeanine, Gabe and Jake,
This is the second report we have received (OK, yours was the first but we answered them out of order) of Periodical Cicadas emerging. The odd thing for us is that 2006 is not a year for a scheduled Brood or either the 13 or 17 year Cicada. Dare we blame global warming?
At the rate we’re going, cicadas & cockroaches may be the only ones around! A local cicada hunter ( I don’t think he’s a professional, just an enthusiast) will be searching the area we located the bug in with hopes of finding others this weekend. I now look forward to retracing our steps this time of year over the next 2 years to see how many we find. Your website is phenominal by the way. Thank you. You are definitely my # 1 stop for my many future IDs.
Clarification From Eric Eaton: “Sometimes, there are a few stragglers among the periodical cicadas that emerge a year later than the rest. Sometimes they emerge a year or so early, too. There should not be very many that are doing that, and this is pretty late in ANY year for them to be emerging. You should consult Dr. Gene Kritsky at the College of Mt. St. Joseph in Cincinnati. He is an authority on the emergence patterns of periodical cicadas. You can tell him I sent you:-) Eric”
Letter 3 – Another Cicada from Australia
Bug found in my Kitchen
I am in Brisbane Australia and live in an apartment on the 7th floor. The balcony doors open partially onto the kitchen and I tend to leave them open all the time. I found this bug 2 days ago on the kitchen counter. His body is about 2 inches long and the distance between his eyes was wider than the rest of his body. He was thicker than my Boyfriends thumb, now I know that isn’t the best measurement, but this was a big bug.
We have gotten several images of Australian Cicadas in recent months. We located a great site for Australian Cicadas called Scribbly Gum: Summer of the Singing Cicadas, but none of the pictured species seems to exactly match yours.
cicada on WTB 9&22Jan
These are both Psaltoda claripennis (Australia) which are emerging around this time around Brisbane. They are around 4cm long (body) about the size of your Tibicen winnemanna.
Letter 4 – Annual Cicada by a Structuralist Insect Photographer
A few for your collection!
Hi there Bug People!
I like to photograph only the most taken for granted of things in the world…lowly mushrooms and fungus, insects, small rodents, amphibians, etc… I have included a few ( a very small sampling ) of my ‘insect world’ favorites for 2004. Hope you enjoy them! (Personally, I love the Imperial Moth that befriended my hand…the Stag is second place) All of these photos are from the location described below.
Actual Location Data: (of all insect photos attached) Earleville, MD – in a small, private community named ‘Hazelmoor’.
Latitude: 39.4401 Longitude: -76.0247
Time is always (approx) between the hours of 20:30 to 00:00 hrs, EDT
My Goodness, Scott,
I admire the structuralist tendencies you have applied to your insect photographs. We also like your photo of a poor dead Annual Cicada.
Letter 5 – Awesome Posting on Brood XIX
I linked to you on my blog (again)
July 4, 2011 6:31 pm
Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I linked to your site from my blog, http://mycologista.blogspot.com/ (primarily a wild mushroom blog, but it frequently detours into anything else in the natural world that catches my interest).
I haven’t quite finished it yet (for some reason this post took forever!), but I’m about to. Feel free to chime in in the comments if I got something wrong.
Thanks so much for all the work you do, gathering up all the info and posting it for us to learn about.
Sorry for the delay. Thanks to our technical staff, this email which escaped our attention is now a posting on our site. Your documentation of the Brood XIX Thirteen Year Cicadas is awesome. We are also posting something soon that we believe is a mushroom and perhaps you will be able to comment.
Letter 6 – Appearance of Green Grocer from Australia marks the approach of Southern Summer
Subject: Please identify this bug
Location: Wheelers Hill Victoria, 3150 Australia
November 14, 2012 5:57 am
Found this bug on my drive way after taking my dog (which is a kelpie) for a walk. He started barking at it (as it was nigh time i had to shine a light at it to see it and i couldn’t work out what it was. it was approximately the size of my iphone 4s in length and its head was around 4 centimetres wide to give you a bit of a scale in size.
While many folks who live in the northern hemisphere are lamenting the coming of winter, folks in Australia are rejoicing with the approach of summer. Whether one lives in the north or south, Cicadas are a fixture of the summer symphony of sound, and Australia is famous for the diversity of its Cicadas. Australians are very proud of their Cicadas, and you might enjoy visiting the Cicada Mania website. This colorful Cicada is commonly called a Green Grocer, Cyclochila australasiae, a species that has several different color variations each with its own distinctive name.
Letter 7 – Annual Cicada and Cicada Exuvia
Subject: Strange, Large, Winged Bug
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
July 27, 2013 1:07 pm
We spotted this interesting bug on our large ash tree today. We also found two old exoskeleton skins on the tree. This bugs wings are still crinkled so we suspect it recently shed it’s skin. It seems to have a strange pocket of aqua coloured liquid within one wing, not sure what that’s about. The bug is large, measuring about 1.5 inches (see ruler in the photo). Anyhow, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life and am very curious to know what it is. I’ll let the photos do the talking.
Signature: Nat + Kris
Dear Nat + Chris,
Your photos are related as you suspected. The insect is a newly metamorphosed Annual Cicada, sometimes called a Dogday Harvestfly, and the exoskeleton is the exuvia or cast off skin left after the nymph metamorphosed into a winged adult. Cicada nymphs live underground for several years taking nourishment from the roots of trees and shrubs. Adult Cicadas create quite a din when they call to mates from the treetops. The Cicada call is a nostalgic summer sound for our editorial staff who now resides in Los Angeles. The pocket of aqua liquid does not look normal. Perhaps a wing vein was damaged, releasing fluids.
Thanks so much for the quick reply! We have often heard cicadas but never knew what they looked like. Cool!
Letter 8 – Annual Cicada Metamorphosis
Subject: Cicada emerging from old skeleton
Location: Omaha, NE
September 15, 2013 5:53 pm
I live in Omaha, NE, and about a month ago (mid August), the cicadas started up. My husband found this guy on the tree in our front yard. My camera actually snapped some pretty good photos, and I thought you might like to have them in your archives. Bugs are awesome!
Signature: Erica F.
Dear Erica F.,
Thanks so much for sending your wonderful images of the metamorphosis of an Annual Cicada in the genus Tibicen.
Letter 9 – Account of Cicada “Bite” with Western Painted Lady
Subject: Bitten by a cicada
Location: Chicago IL, cir 1980
September 16, 2014 10:05 am
Hi! I’ve noticed in a few of your ID’s os of cicadas you mention the report of someone being bitten (or rather stabbed) by one. I was bitten by one when I was a boy! I always loved them and was super excited when I found one. I let this male that I found under a maple tree in Chicago climb my left index finger. About half way up it stopped and suddenly stabbed into my finger with its proboscis! It hurt like hell, much like being stabbed with a 20g needle. I don’t think it had any venom; the pain was purely from mechanical trauma. Anyway, I yanked it off my finger and tossed it into the air after which it buzzed off happily.
Random butterfly photo from the Bosque Del Apache reserve.
Thank you for substantiating the possibility that a person might be bitten by a Cicada if it is carelessly handled. Your image of a Western Painted Lady, Vanessa annabella, is beautiful.
Letter 10 – Annual Cicada
Location: North Andover, MA
June 30, 2015 12:48 pm
I’ve never actually seen a cicada. I thought they were a southern bug that came out in big numbers every certain number of years. We are in MA and this little guy was on our screen door. Is it a cicada?
This is indeed a Cicada, as is the “southern bug that came out in big numbers in every certain number of years”, but the latter is known as a Periodical Cicada or 17 Year Locust. The second common name is a total misnomer as the Cicada is not a Locust. They are not limited to the South. Your Cicada is generally called an Annual Cicada, and it is in the genus Tibicen.
Letter 11 – Annual Cicada Metamorphosis
Subject: is this a cicada?
Location: Ankeny Iowa
July 30, 2016 8:56 am
Found this on our girls little play house this morning. Was wondering if this so sort of a cicada and if it’s harmful or not?
Your image has captured the Metamorphosis of an Annual Cicada. Nymphs live underground for several years, and when they are nearing maturity, they dig to the surface and molt one final time before flying off as winged adult Annual Cicadas.
Letter 12 – Annual Cicada Metamorphosis
Subject: what brood cicada is this
August 8, 2016 8:05 pm
it just emerged this evening aug 8, 2016 in north east raleigh, nc
Your image depicts the metamorphosis of an Annual Cicada. There is not much detail in your image and species ID might be difficult. Additionally, the obsolete genus Tibicen is currently undergoing taxonomic revision and has been divided into Neotibicen & Hadoa. Regarding Cicadas, the term Brood refers to the Periodical Cicadas that emerge in great numbers every 13 or 17 years.
Letter 13 – Annual Cicada Metamorphosis
August 8, 2016 8:19 pm
Thanks for sending your awesome image of the metamorphosis of an Annual Cicada. Annual Cicadas spend several years underground as nymphs, and as they mature, they dig to the surface and molt for the last time, emerging as adult Cicadas. Annual Cicadas appear every year, which distinguished them from Periodical Cicadas. Periodical Cicadas in the genus Magicicada spend 17 years underground as nymphs (13 years in southern states) and they emerge in great numbers in a given year. They are not seen again in that location until the next Brood matures in 17 or 13 years. Earlier this year, we put out a request for Periodical Cicada images from Brood V, which ranges in the states of Ohio, West Virginia, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania or Maryland, according to Cicada Mania. We did not receive an Brood V images. There are currently 15 active broods being monitored by Cicada Mania, and you can see the predicted emergence schedules on the site.
Letter 14 – Annual Cicada from Canada
Subject: Cicada in eastern, new brunswick
Location: Hillsborough, New Brunswick canada
August 21, 2016 3:20 pm
Thanks to your website I have identified yet another bug I have never seen before!
This cicada was found on my step this evening. Never seen one before. Ugly huge fly. Are they common in New Brunswick? Because I’ve never seen one before around here.
Signature: Nb nick
Dear Nb nick,
We are happy to hear WTB? enabled you to identify your impressive Annual Cicada.
Letter 15 – Annual Cicada Metamorphosis
Subject: Morphing Cicada?
Location: Midland, Michigan
August 10, 2017 5:54 pm
My kids and I found this guy on their swingset mid-morph, we believe. When we returned hours later, just the brown shell was left.
Signature: CHELSEA G.
You and your children were quite lucky to observe this Annual Cicada Metamorphosis. The nymph had been living underground for several years prior to digging to the surface to transform into a winged adult. The “brown shell” is the exoskeleton left behind, and it is called the exuvia.
Letter 16 – Annual Cicada Nymph
Subject: Please help identify
Geographic location of the bug: Cleveland, OH
Time: 02:44 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Walked across my patio on a hot August day. Thought it was a small crayfish from pond behind my house. Pretty sure it’s a big though
How you want your letter signed: Greg M
Dear Greg M,
This is an Annual Cicada Nymph. It has been living underground for several years feeding from plant roots. Now that it has neared maturity, it has used its front legs to dig to the surface where it will molt and end its life as a winged adult Annual Cicada or Dog Day Harvestfly, one of the loudest of the summer insects. It might become prey to a Cicada Killer.
Letter 17 – Annual Cicada with Exuvia
Subject: Scary bug
Geographic location of the bug: Georgia, rainy
Time: 10:11 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: So I went outside to take my dog out, and outside our garage door were these two bugs and they have been there now for a few hours without any movement
How you want your letter signed: bugman
This is an image of a winged Annual Cicada and the shed larval skin or exuvia it left behind when it emerged from living underground and metamorphosed into a winged adult. Annual Cicadas are also known as Dog Day Harvestflies and they are considered the loudest insects on earth.
Letter 18 – Annual Cicada: AKA Dog Day Harvestfly
Subject: Wasp? Beetle? what is it..
Geographic location of the bug: New York City, West Village
Time: 02:50 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: This bug landed on my shoulder. I thought a really large drop of water hit me. It was quite strong impact. I looked over and it was on my shoulder. I flicked it off, it flew around in circles and landed on the sidewalk. About 2-1/2″ long. 3/4″ wide. Very stout, large, insect. What the heck is it? I’ve never seen one in 50 years in NYC.
How you want your letter signed : J. Kastor
Figured it out-
It’s our new super noisy Cicada neighbors..: )
Dear J. Kastor,
We are happy to hear you figured out the identity of this Annual Cicada, sometimes called a Dog Day Harvestfly because they appear in the latter part of summer. Many people compare their appearance to a giant fly. Daniel really enjoyed listening to their numbers grow in Ohio during the first three weeks of August. There is a large wasp known as a Cicada Killer that preys on Cicadas not to eat but to feed a brood, stinging the Cicada to paralyze it and then burying the Cicada alive to serve as fresh meat when the Cicada Killer’s egg hatches. One of our favorite letters ever is the account of a Cicada Killer hunting a Cicada in Manhattan.