How Long Do Cicadas Live: Unraveling the Mystery of Their Lifespan

Cicadas are fascinating insects known for their unique life cycle and the loud sounds they produce. These thick-bodied creatures can be found in various regions, with some species having a distinct life span.

In general, cicadas live for several years, spending most of their time underground as nymphs, feeding on the fluids from plant roots. Some cicadas, known as periodical cicadas, emerge every 13 or 17 years, depending on the species. They come out to mate, lay eggs, and then die shortly after, completing their life cycle.

In contrast, other cicada species found in places like Colorado have a shorter life cycle, taking 3 to 5 years from egg to adult. Regardless of their life span, cicadas play a vital role in ecosystems, serving as a food source for various animals and contributing to nutrient cycles.

Cicada Types and Habitats

Cicadas are large, thick-bodied insects that can be found in the US and other parts of the world like Australia. They belong to the superfamily Cicadoidea and can be classified into two main types: periodical cicadas and annual cicadas.

Periodical Cicadas

Periodical cicadas are unique to North America and emerge from underground every 13 or 17 years, depending on their brood life cycle. A notable example of periodical cicadas is the Magicicada genus, which consists of seven species. They typically live on deciduous trees and have a distinctive black and red coloration.

Notable features of periodical cicadas include:

  • 13 or 17-year underground development
  • Part of broods, like the Onondaga Brood
  • Only found in North America

Annual Cicadas

Annual cicadas, like the Okanagana genus, emerge every year, mainly in the Eastern United States. They spend 2-5 years developing underground, feeding on tree roots before they emerge for a brief adult life of about three to four weeks. These cicadas have a greenish hue and are more widespread than their periodical counterparts.

Characteristics of annual cicadas include:

  • 2 to 5-year underground development
  • Found in Australia and the US
  • Greenish color

The table below provides a comparison of periodical and annual cicadas:

Habitats Features Development Cycle Examples
Periodical Cicadas Distinctive black and red color 13 or 17-year underground development Magicicada genus
Annual Cicadas Greenish hue 2 to 5-year underground development Okanagana genus

As part of the Hemiptera order, both cicada types produce sound using their tymbal, a complex abdominal structure used for communication. The cicadas are relatively harmless to humans and plants, with the exception of some minor injuries caused by egg-laying.

Life Cycle of Cicadas

Egg Stage

Cicadas begin their life as eggs laid by female cicadas. After mating, female cicadas use their ovipositor to make slits in tree branches, where they lay their eggs1. The eggs hatch after approximately six to seven weeks2.

Nymph Stage

Upon hatching, the cicada nymphs fall to the ground and burrow into the soil3. They start feeding on plant roots and go through five molting stages before emerging from the ground4. The duration of the nymph stage varies, typically lasting from 2-5 years depending on environmental factors and food availability5. Some cicada species, known as periodical cicadas, stay in the nymph stage for either 13 or 17 years6.

Comparison of nymph stages:

Cicada Type Nymph Stage Duration
Most Cicada Species 2-5 years
Periodical Cicadas 13 or 17 years

Adult Stage

After the final molt, cicadas emerge as winged adults. Adult cicadas are characterized by their large compound eyes, which distinguish them from grasshoppers7. Males attract females by vibrating membranes on the sides of their bodies, creating their iconic “song”8. The adult stage is relatively short, as cicadas die shortly after mating and laying eggs9.

Key features of adult cicadas:

  • Large compound eyes
  • Wings
  • Males “sing” to attract females
  • Brief lifespan

Mating and Reproduction

Mating Call

Male cicadas use a unique mating call to attract females. This loud call, produced by vibrating a membrane on the sides of their bodies, can reach up to 100 decibels. This sound varies between species and even between periodical and annual cicadas.

Mate Selection

Female cicadas use their antennae to discern males’ calls and respond by flicking their wings. Males and females then mate, creating the next generation of cicadas. For periodical cicadas, this can happen every 13 or 17 years, while for annual cicadas, it occurs every summer.

Characteristics of cicadas:

  • Black bodies
  • Large red-brown eyes
  • Membranous wings with orange veins
  • Stout bodies

Egg Laying Process

After mating, female cicadas lay their eggs within slits made in tree branches, as mentioned in Ask A Biologist. For the eggs to hatch, they require six to seven weeks. The nymphs then fall to the ground, dig into the soil, and the cycle starts anew.

Pros of cicadas:

  • Harmless to humans
  • Important food source for other species
  • Aerators for the soil

Cons of cicadas:

  • Loud mating calls
  • Damage to younger trees due to egg-laying
  • Potential crop damage

Comparison of cicada types:

Feature Annual Cicadas Periodical Cicadas
Broods Multiple small broods Large synchronized broods (e.g., Brood X cicadas)
Mating frequency Every summer Every 13 or 17 years
Sound Unique by species Unique by species
Color Green or black with green markings Black with red eyes and opaque wings

By focusing on the mating call, mate selection, and egg-laying process, our understanding of cicada reproduction is enhanced, allowing us to appreciate their importance in the ecosystem.

Cicadas and the Environment

Cicadas as a Food Source

Cicadas provide a valuable food source for various predators, such as birds and small mammals. Their abundance during mass emergence makes them an easy prey:

  • High in protein
  • Easily accessible

Cicadas and Plant Health

Cicadas play a role in the health of plants:

  • Females lay eggs in tree branches, causing minor damage
  • Nymphs feed on plant sap in the soil, aerating it for healthy root growth

Cultural Significance

Cicadas hold an important place in many cultures around the world:

  • Associated with rebirth and renewal
  • Used as a symbol in art and literature

Comparison of Cicadas and Locusts

Feature Cicadas Locusts
Size 1-2 inches 0.5-3 inches
Flying Yes Yes
Noise level Up to 100 decibels Less noisy
Lifecycle 2-17 years 1-8 months
Diet Plant sap Vegetation, crops
Destructiveness Minimal Very destructive

In summary, cicadas play an ecological role as a food source, contribute to plant health, and have cultural significance in various societies.

Footnotes

  1. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

  2. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

  3. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

  4. Ask A Biologist

  5. Ask A Biologist

  6. US EPA

  7. Home & Garden Information Center

  8. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

  9. Home & Garden Information Center

Reader Emails

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 – Cicada Exoskeleton

 

what is this?
the bug is attached in a picture
JR

Hi JR,
We get numerous requests to identify the exoskeletons of Cicadas, but rarely are the images as fine as yours. Immature Cicada nymphs live underground where they suck sap from the roots of trees and shrubs. When they approach maturity, they dig to the surface (hence the clawlike front feet) and molt into winged adults, leaving the exoskeleton behind.

Letter 2 – CHICHARRA from Costa Rica

 

Subject: Carlos
Location: Costa Rica
April 29, 2014 6:10 pm
Este insecto no lo había visto antes y lo encontré en un pueblo llamado Zarcero de Costa Rica.
Signature: CarlosAS

Cicada
Cicada

Hola CarlosAS,
Este insecto es una CHICHARRA.  The Cicadas are very vocal insects, and they are considered among the loudest insects in the world.  According to the Book of Insect Records:  “The African cicada,
Brevisana brevis (Homoptera: Cicadidae) produces a calling song with a mean sound pressure level of 106.7 decibels at a distance of 50cm. Two species of North American cicadas, Tibicen walkeri Metcalf and T. resh (Haldman), produce an alarm call with a mean sound pressure level of 105.9 dB(50cm). Brevisana brevis is likely the loudest insect species on record. Cicada songs are species-specific and play a vital role in communication, reproduction, and possibly defense.”  We will attempt to identify your species of Cicada.

Letter 3 – Cicada from Dominican Republic

 

Subject:  Cicada
Geographic location of the bug:  Dominican Republic, Santiago
August 28, 2017  10:28 AM
I had to,post this cicada, most cicadas in DR are dark, this is the first time I see a light colored one.
Do you know the genus and species?
How you want your letter signed:  Suzette

Cicada

Hi Suzette,
I am also including the image you sent in a previous email of a dark Cicada.  The spotting on the wings in both individuals looks similar, so it is possible there is some color variation within a single species.  The markings on the lighter Cicada look similar to the North American genus
Tibicen, commonly called the Annual Cicadas.  Unfortunately, there is no good database of Dominican insects available online.

Cicada

 

Letter 4 – Cicada Cyclist

 

What’s this bug?
I found this bug on my bicycle in Queens, NY.
Thank you.
Linda

Hi Linda,
Did this happen over night or have you been neglecting your bike riding? We can only guess your bike was parked near a tree to have a Cicada dig its way out of the dirt, climb your bicycle and split its skin to fly away as a winged adult that is buzzing loudly in the trees.

Letter 5 – Cicada Exoskeletons

 

? bug
I found these bug casings on a painted pillar outside my front door today. They were stuck to it as if they really sank their claws in while exiting their shells. My wife thought they were bees because of the stripes on their abdomen. They also have some pretty mean looking claws. They are about one inch long, maybe a little less. What the heck are they? We live in Redding, (northern) California. Also, we leave the porch light on at night and they were found a few feet below the bulb. Thanks,
Mike Sawyer

Hi Mike,
These are the cast off exoskeletons of Cicadas. Larval Cicadas live underground. When they are ready to mature, they claw their way to the surface, shed their exoskeletons, and become winged adults.

Letter 6 – Cicada Exoskeleton

 

Bug that looks like a huge bee.
September 11, 2009
I’ve seem these creatures in Zadar, Croatia. The bug is yellow and transparent and looks like a bee on steroids. It’s disgusting.
I’ve never seen them move. They stick to a tent or tree and just stay there. Ugly creatures. Oh yeah, and they’re crunchy 🙁
2djman
Zadar, Croatia

Cicada Exuviae
Cicada Exuvia

Dear 2djman,
This is the cast off exoskeleton or exuvia of a Cicada.  We get numerous requests for the identification of Cicada Exoskeletons, but your backlit photograph is quite possibly the most beautiful image we have seen.  The immature Cicada lives underground, and when it approaches maturity, it digs to the surface, climbs up a tree trunk or other vertical feature, and splits its skin.  We also have numerous images on our website of the metamorphosis of a Cicada.  The winged adult then flies off, leaving the empty Exuvia behind.

Letter 7 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Where Are The Insides Of This Bug?
April 29, 2010
Hello! I was at my parent’s home in Lake Panasoffkee, Florida about three weeks ago and while I was out on the dock, I noticed this beetle-looking bug. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the upper-middle section was split open and all of the bug’s insides were gone. First, what exactly am I looking at and second, is this some sort of shedded skin? I am truly intrigued by this and would truly appreciate your assistance in answering these questions. Thank you in advance for your time and efforts!
Victor
Lake Panasoffkee, Florida

Cicada Exuvia

Hi Victor,
This is the Exuvia or molted skin of a Cicada.  Immature Cicadas live underground, and when they near maturity, they dig to the surface, shed their exoskeleton for the last time, and emerge as winged adults that buzz in the trees.  The Exuvia is left behind.

Daniel,
Thank you so very much for your prompt and informative reply! I find your explanation fascinating and will pass your information along to my three children who, like me, were intrigued at what this bug would actually be.
Thanks again for your time and efforts,
Victor

Letter 8 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Bug found in Kruger National Park
July 10, 2010
Last February my girlfriend and I spend 5 days driving around in Kruger National Park and found this fellow sitting on a trunk next to our cabin in Satara Restcamp. I know for a fact they are preyed upon by Yellow-billed Hornbills as I saw one trying to swallow on whole. They are about 50mm in length and width and are equipped with preying mantis like frontal pincers. No idea what they are, even after trying to find them online. Could you guys help?
J.W. Smienk
Kruger National Park (South Africa)

Cicada Exuvia

Dear J.W.,
This looks to us like the exuvia, or sloughed off larval skin, of a Cicada.  The immature Cicada lives underground feeding from plant roots.  When it is ready to metamorphose, it digs to the surface and molts for the final time.  The Exuvia or cast off exoskeleton is left behind when the adult Cicada flies away.

Letter 9 – Cicada Exuvia

 

What’s this bug?
Location: NE PA
August 8, 2011 7:11 pm
I found it on a type of pine tree. 3 of them. hanging upside down. It’s crusty. My dog grabbed it and chewed on it. Appears partially hollow. It’s eyes are transparent as well as some of its body. It has front claws like a crab. Thanks!
Signature: does not matter

Cicada Exuvia

Dear does not matter,
This is the Exuvia or cast off exoskeleton of a Cicada.  The Cicada nymph lives underground for several years feeding on the sap in tree roots.  When it nears maturity, it digs to the surface and metamorphoses into a winged adult, leaving behind the shed exuvia.

Letter 10 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Found in the house
Location: chatham, On
January 16, 2012 1:43 pm
My mothers husband was cleaning in their living room and found this skin of what i thought was a junebug, but at a closer glance i realized that it wasn’t. Can you please tell me what this is because the pincher arms scare me a little with my young kids going there. It might be in the house, it was at one time at least to shed its skin.
Signature: Carly

Cicada Exuvia

Hi Carly,
This is the exuvia or cast of skin of a Cicada.  Cicada nymphs live underground, often for many years.  When they are ready to metamorphose into adults, they dig to the surface, split their skins to molt for the last time, and emerge as winged adults leaving the exuvia behind.

Letter 11 – Cicada, but what species???

 

Subject: Insect w/black lace like wing yet looks cricketish or grasshopperish?
Location: La Grande Oregon 97850
June 2, 2012 4:35 pm
Hi Bugman,
I noticed this as I was checking for ladybug eggs in the backyard (just released 18,000 of them 🙂 I have never seen anything quite like it around here. However I did ”theoretically” release some green lacewing larvae around a month ago…I say ”theoretical” because I buy packages full of invisible things from the internet. Unfortunately the weather went south and the release conditions were less than ideal, also my understanding is green lacewings are well…..green. Any help you could provide would be much appreciated. Best Regards Scott
Signature: Purple Monkey Dishwasher

Cicada

Dear Scott, AKA Purple Monkey Dishwasher,
This is a Cicada, but we are uncertain of the species and sadly, we haven’t the time to research the species at this moment.  You can read more about Cicadas on BugGuide.  We find it terribly interesting and more than a little disturbing that you release packages of invisible things you have bought on the internet.  This could have undesirable consequences if you establish non-native species in a sensitive habitat.  We are postdating your letter to go live during our absence later in the month.

Hi Bugman,
Thank you so very much for your prompt reply.  Of course I understand that you haven’t the time or inclination to identify the species(I don’t either!) the genus is enough 🙂  I too find my “release of invisible things” interesting and disturbing.  Rest assured though releases have been quite limited to the aforementioned lace wings and the beneficial nematodes S. feltiae and Heterorhabditis bacteriophora or as I call them “Adult Sea Monkey’s”.  Of course you may use my letter how you wish though I would prefer it not be in the context of “this is how you file a restraining order” or “stay away from Eastern Oregon sweetie…..” fond memories at drunken Christmas parties are ok though…….Once again thank you.
Regards, Purple Monkey Dishwasher

Letter 12 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject: Strange Beetle
Location: West Roxbury (Boston), MA
July 7, 2013 7:10 pm
Hi, hoping you can help identify this ”creature” for us!
This photo, taken by my daughter with an iPhone, was captured just a few minutes ago in West Roxbury, MA (part of Boston), Sunday evening, July 7, 2013, clinging to the side of a garage door. He’s pretty scary looking, and is fairly large at about 1 1/2 to 2 inches big. He was resting in a slight curled position. The weather here has been terribly hot & humid for days – seems like every bug in the world is out!
Any clue?
Signature: Carol & Hanna

Cicada Exuvia
Cicada Exuvia

Hi Carol & Hanna,
This is the Exuvia or shed skin of a Cicada.  Cicada Exuviae are often found on tree trunks, fence posts and walls.  Larval Cicadas live underground, and when it is time to metamorphose into winged adults, they dig to the surface, climb up off the ground and molt for the final time, emerging as winged adults.

Wow! Thank you so very much for the reply & info!! It’s so fascinating! We took the Cicada Exuvia off the door & saved it in a jar for my nephews & nieces who will just love this bit if nature!!
Thanks again for your expertise & wonderful website!
–Carol & Hanna

Letter 13 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject: Huge ugly brown bug
Location: Brooklyn, NY
September 10, 2013 9:44 pm
Found this huge, ugly, brown bug on the wall outside my house. It hasn’t moved in over a week. I saw 2 of these same bugs last summer and if I remember correctly, they stayed there all summer. I live in brooklyn, ny and its been around 85 degrees for the past week here.
Signature: Leah

Cicada Exuvia
Cicada Exuvia

Hi Leah,
This is the exuvia or shed skin of a Cicada.  The nymph lives underground where it feeds on the sap from roots.  When it matures, it digs to the surface, molts for the final time leaving the exuvia behind and flies off as a winged adult Cicada.

Letter 14 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject: Beetle type carapace, Australia
Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
October 11, 2013 6:01 pm
I found a few of these large empty outer shells of beetle type bugs in my garden. They measured about 1.5 – 2 inches in length. Head and pincers indicated a beetle. They are well camouflaged on the tree. This one was still stuck to the tree although the creature inside the shell exoskeleton has gone – perhaps it was eaten? Or it has shed its skin. What bug made these? Location is in Melbourne, Victoria in Australia.
Signature: Charlotte

Cicada Exuvia
Cicada Exuvia

Hi Charlotte,
This is the exuvia or cast off larval exoskeleton of a Cicada.  The immature Cicada lives underground feeding on plant roots.  When it approaches maturity, it digs to the surface and molts for the final time.  A winged Cicada emerges, leaving the exuvia behind.  Australia is home to a very diverse population of Cicadas, many with colorful names like Green Grocer and Double Drummer.

Letter 15 – Cicada: Concern over Allergies

 

Subject: Allergic Reaction To Insects!
Location: Arkadelphia, Arkansas
July 19, 2014 12:39 pm
My son and I found this bug on our driveway it had landed and was fluttering around on the. ground. Being that I just found out that I’m allergic to some insects and I do not know what this thing is I’m really concerned about this.
PLEASE HELP!
Signature: Kia Harris

Cicada
Cicada

Dear Kia,
This is a Cicada, and since we are not medical experts, we are uncertain how to address your allergy concerns.  According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology:  “Experts estimate that 2 million Americans are allergic to insect stings, and many of these individuals are at risk of suffering life-threatening reactions to insect venom.”  Since Cicadas do not sting, we would suppose that should not be an issue.  We are aware of allergies to Cockroaches, and according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology:  “Cockroaches live in all types of buildings and all kinds of neighborhoods. Some people develop allergy symptoms when they are around cockroaches. Luckily, there are ways to treat a cockroach allergy and prevent and get rid of cockroaches.”
  Since Cicadas are not even remotely related to Cockroaches, we do not think that should be a concern for you.  Many insects will bite, so we decided to research bite allergies, and according to the Mayo Clinic:  “Signs and symptoms of an insect bite result from the injection of venom or other substances into your skin. The venom causes pain and sometimes triggers an allergic reaction. The severity of the reaction depends on your sensitivity to the insect venom or substance and whether you’ve been stung or bitten more than once.  Most reactions to insect bites are mild, causing little more than an annoying itching or stinging sensation and mild swelling that disappear within a day or so. A delayed reaction may cause fever, hives, painful joints and swollen glands. You might experience both the immediate and the delayed reactions from the same insect bite or sting. Only a small percentage of people develop severe reactions (anaphylaxis) to insect venom. Signs and symptoms of a severe reaction include:
Nausea
Facial swelling
Difficulty breathing
Abdominal pain
Deterioration of blood pressure and circulation (shock)
Bites from bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets and fire ants are typically the most troublesome. Bites from mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, ants, scorpions and some spiders also can cause reactions. Scorpion and ant bites can be very severe. Although rare, some insects also carry disease such as West Nile virus or Lyme disease.”  Cicadas are not mentioned in the list of insects with bites that might cause a reaction.  According to Cicada Mania:  “Technically cicadas don’t bite or sting; they do however pierce and suck. They might try to pierce and suck you, but don’t worry, they aren’t Vampires nor are they malicious or angry — they’re just ignorant and think you’re a tree. Just remove the cicada from your person, and go about your business. Cicadas also have pointy feet, egg-laying parts (ovipositors) and other sharp parts that might feel like a bite.  Cicadas don’t have jaws (mandibles) like a wasp, mantis or ant, built to tear and chew flesh. Cicadas don’t have stingers, like bees and wasps, meant to deploy venom and paralyze or otherwise harm their victim. See a video of a Japanese hornet to see what I mean.  Cicadas obtain sustenance by drinking tree fluids, which are relatively watery compared to human blood. Drinking human blood would probably kill a cicada.”
  For many years we informed our readership that Cicadas do not bite nor sting, and then in 2009, we received this report:  “A few years ago, while working in a state park nature center in Indiana, a young (6 years old) entomologist brought his latest aquisition, a cicada, to show me. I picked it up and let it crawl on my thumb. When I was ready to give it back, the thing wouldn’t let go, and decided to press that sucking mouth part into my thumb. It was pretty painful. They can DEFINATELY bite (or perhaps STAB is a more appropriate term).”  In our opinion, you do not need to fear Cicadas because of an allergic reaction, but we must qualify that with the reiteration that we do not have medical credentials, nor entomological ones for that matter.

Letter 16 – Cicada from Canada

 

Subject: I think I found a Cicada!
Location: Toronto, Ontario
July 19, 2014 5:05 pm
I wish I could have taken a better picture, but this not so little guy was hanging out on my second floor window. It’s been raining all day, so it looks like he found himself a nice spot to dry off. Aside from a little green at the base of his wings, he was mostly brown and grey, with the majority of grey found on his underside. He looked like he was wearing armor, with a buffe on his face and a breastplate.
I live in Southern Ontario, in Toronto.
Signature: Angelique

Cicada
Cicada

Hi Angelique,
You are correct that this is an Annual Cicada.  North American Cicada sightings tend to peak in August except in years where the Periodical Cicadas make a 17 year appearance in the late spring.

Letter 17 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject: what in the world?
Location: Dartmouth, Massachusetts
August 5, 2014 5:41 am
Dear Bugman,
Hello, I was at work in Dartmouth, Ma. It was in late summer and found these dangling from under the leaves. They were shells. It looked like some type of bug that shed it’s skin. It was large almost 2 inches. I was stumped when I saw the claw like arms. I posted it on Face Book and no one knew what it was. Any ideas. In all my days I’ve never seen anything like it. Beetle family?
Signature: Thanks, Kristin

Cicada Exuvia
Cicada Exuvia

Dear Kristin,
This is the shed exoskeleton or Exuvia of a Cicada.  The Cicada nymph has been living underground for several years, and upon reaching maturity, it dug to the surface, molted for the final time, and emerged as a winged Cicada.  Perhaps you are familiar with the buzzing sound Cicadas produce from the tree tops in the summer.

Letter 18 – Cicada from Canada

 

Subject: What is this ???
Location: Stratford Ontario
August 15, 2014 5:32 am
I was pulling weeds and this fell out of my tree
Signature: John grieve

Cicada
Cicada

Dear John,
This is a Cicada in the genus
Tibicen, and we would wager that even though you did not recognize it, you are familiar with the loud buzzing sound they produce from the tops of the trees in the latter half of the summer.  These Cicadas are sometimes called Dog Day Harvestflies, though they are Hemipterans, not true flies.  We are curious what damaged this individuals wings.  Perhaps a predatory bird.

Letter 19 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject: What is this?
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
September 13, 2014 12:10 pm
Saw this exoskeleton on my mailbox. The forelimbs look like a mantis but the rest doesn’t.
Signature: Theresa

Cicada Exuvia
Cicada Exuvia

Dear Theresa,
This is the shed exoskeleton or Exuvia of a Cicada.

Letter 20 – Cicada from Australia

 

Subject: What is this
Location: Australia, port Stephens
November 29, 2014 3:50 am
Had this fly on our door an was a beast, wondering what it is
Signature: Email

Cicada
Cicada

This is a Cicada and many people mistake Cicadas for large flies.  Australia is the home of numerous, diverse species of Cicadas and we will attempt a species identification for you.

Letter 21 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject: strange bug?
Location: CA
March 29, 2015 12:02 pm
Hello!
my name is Lauren
as I was walk in home from church today I discovered an interesting bug. I was wondering if you could help on enlightening me? It looks like a nymph, but I know those are restricted to water.
thank you much,
Lauren
Signature: Lauren Haldeman

Cicada Exuvia
Cicada Exuvia

Dear Lauren,
This is the exuvia or shed exoskeleton of a Cicada.  Immature Cicadas, known as nymphs, live underground and they dig to the surface just prior to the final molt, leaving behind the exuvia and flying off as winged adults.  All insects that undergo incomplete metamorphosis have immature stages known as nymphs.  Naiad is a term specific for a water nymph.

Letter 22 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject: what kind of bug is this
Location: ann arbor michigan
July 30, 2015 3:07 pm
hi we found two of these bugs walking up the sides of our trash cans today, never seen something like them. took 3 diff photos of the same bug trying to get as clear as possible. let us know what they are 🙂
Signature: bug guys

Cicada Exuvia
Cicada Exuvia

Dear bug guys,
This is a Cicada Exuvia, the cast off exoskeleton that remains after metamorphosis.  The Cicada Nymph has been living underground, feeding on the roots of trees, shrubs and plants.  When it approaches maturity, it digs to the surface, climbs an available vertical structure and molts for the last time, emerging as a winged adult Cicada.

Letter 23 – Cicada Nymph

 

Subject: chunky bug in backyard. what is it?
Location: Bloomington, IN
August 11, 2015 9:45 am
Hello there!
There seems to be a dispute going on over the identity of this bug I ran into in my backyard. Some say it’s a cicada larva, others a potato bug (aka Nino De La Tierra/Jerusalem Cricket?). It seems to have crab-like claws! Do you know? Sorry it’s covered in dirt in this photo. It’s long gone, otherwise I would clean it off and take another pic…
Thanks!
Signature: Brandon

Cicada Exuvia
Cicada Nymph

Dear Brandon,
Though it is theoretically not a Cicada larva, those that said that are closer to the truth.  This is actually the exuvia or shed exoskeleton of a Cicada nymph.  The Cicada nymph lives underground for several years, and when it nears maturity, it digs to the surface and molts for the final time, flying off as a winged Cicada and leaving behind the shell of its formal self.

Thanks! The Cicada nymph had actually yet to break out of its exoskeleton yet when I found it. It was crawling along veeeeeery slowly. It must have been about to complete its molting process.
Best,
Brandon

Thanks for the clarification Brandon.  It appears in the image that there is a split down the back, which caused us to speculate that this was already an exuvia.

Letter 24 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject: Insect living in dead tree
Location: Pennsylvannia
March 15, 2016 12:19 am
Hello my name is Jeancesar and I came across this bug I found inside a dead tree, I found the bug quite odd and decided to take a photo, I live in PA and I could not find this bug anywhere in the index for insect commonly found in Pennsylvannia and out of the 310 around this area none were the bug I took a photo of. It has a body like a bumble bee, 4 legs, small oval wings and what I think seems to be claws or pincers of some kind as arms if I’m not mistaking. Now I did not catch a live one but it was a dead insect and what the photo shows is its remains the exoskeleton. I’ve been wondering for months now what it is if you could please help with identifying this bug it would be much appreciated,
Sincerely,
Signature: Jeancesar

Cicada Exuvia
Cicada Exuvia

Dear Jeancesar,
This is the Exuvia or cast off exoskeleton of a Cicada.  Immature Cicadas live underground where they feed by sucking nutrients from the roots of trees and shrubs.  When they are nearing maturity, they dig to the surface and molt, leaving behind the exoskeleton after the winged adult Cicada flies away.

Letter 25 – Cicada Nymph

 

Subject: regarding your cicada post
Location: atlanta
June 19, 2016 10:00 am
Saw this little cicada in Georgia last week.
Signature: dee

Cicada Exuvia
Cicada Exuvia

Dear dee,
Your image is gorgeous, right down to the color of the background and foreground, and the way they work with the colors of this Cicada nymph.  We needed to crop it and reformat it, so we had to move your signature so that it would still be visible.  This Cicada nymph has crawled to the surface and it is about to molt for the final time into an adult, music making, flying adult Cicada leaving behind the hollow Exuvia, but it is NOT a Periodical Cicada.  Periodical Cicadas have red eyes, and the different broods are different strains of the same species that is most likely in the process of evolutionary diversion.  Additionally you are too far South for Periodical Cicada, Brood V which extends as far South as Virginia.

thank you for that explanation.  I love taking pics of bugs!  I wasn’t sure about the cicada but I am glad you like the pic and glad you can use it.  Have a great day!

Letter 26 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject: Exoskeleton
Location: Massachusetts
July 29, 2016 4:27 am
Found a molted exoskeleton this morning outside the thing is huge! It’s Brown and has two small claw s in the front. What is this freaky thing
Signature: Wyatt Demo

Cicada Exuvia
Cicada Exuvia

Dear Wyatt,
This exoskeleton is the Exuvia of a Cicada.  After spending several years underground feeding from the sap in roots, the Cicada Nymph digs to the surface, molts for the last time, and flies off as an adult Cicada, leaving behind the Exuvia.

Letter 27 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject: unfortunalety not alive
Location: Ajax, Ontario , Canada
July 30, 2017 10:49 am
Hi, I found this bug on my fence he’s dried up already, from the picture his eyes are in a weird location Thanks for helping identify, Darron
Location, Ajax, Ontario , Canada.Summer, pic taken on 07.30.2017.
Signature: Darron

Cicada Exuvia

Dear Darron,
This is NOT a dead insect.  This is the exuvia or cast-off exoskeleton of a Cicada.  The Cicada nymph spent several years underground, and then tunneled to the surface where it molted of the last time, emerging as an adult, winged Cicada.

Letter 28 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject: Weird garden Bug
Location: Mansfield Ohio
August 23, 2017 4:18 pm
It is sitting on one of my tomato plant stacks. It is very odd. I don’t recall ever seeing it before
Signature: Nicole

Cicada Exuvia

Dear Nicole,
This is a Cicada exuvia, the cast-off exoskeleton.  Cicada nymphs live underground for years, feeding on the roots of plants, and when they near maturity, they dig to the surface and molt for the final time, emerging as winged adult Cicadas.

Letter 29 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject:  Strange bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Delaware
Date: 09/07/2017
Time: 09:54 PM EDT
What is this? I found two of them today?
How you want your letter signed:  VS

Cicada Exuvia

Dear VS,
This is the shed exoskeleton or exuvia of a Cicada.

Letter 30 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject:  Beatle identification
Geographic location of the bug:  On my dying pine tree in wpb fl
Date: 11/06/2018
Time: 05:05 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Is this the southern pine bark beetle that is killing my trees just it’s adult form ?
How you want your letter signed:  Thank you Susan

Cicada Exuvia

Dear Susan,
This is the shed exoskeleton or exuvia of a Cicada.  The Cicada nymph lives underground for several years (as long as 17 years for the Periodical Cicada) and then digs to the surface where it molts, emerging as adult winged Cicada and leaving behind the exuvia.

Letter 31 – Cicada Exuvia

 

Subject:  Beige colored bug (looks like some type of beetle) with pinchers
Geographic location of the bug:  Western Pennsylvlania
Date: 08/12/2019
Time: 02:49 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi I took a few photos of this very bland beige colored beetle looking bug (but may be something else) with bulging eyes and pinchers almost like crayfish/crabs on my arbor this morning  Is not in my insect book so hoping you can help.  Thank you.
How you want your letter signed:  Marge

Cicada Exuvia

Dear Marge,
This is not a Beetle, and at this point it is not even an insect.  This is the cast off exoskeleton or exuvia of a Cicada.  The Cicada nymph has been living underground, and as it approached maturity, it dug to the surface and molted for the final time, eventually flying away as an adult winged Cicada.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts

10 thoughts on “How Long Do Cicadas Live: Unraveling the Mystery of Their Lifespan”

  1. Although I am not a bug expert, I too found this exoskeleton today but as I’ve researched the web I really think that this is from a horsefly. I especially think it is because I saw one that was alive just yesterday.

    Reply
    • We are not experts either, but the exuviae in the image are definitely Cicadas. Horse Flies which undergo complete metamorphosis emerge from a pupa, not from a nymph. We acknowledge that internet research is often flawed because anyone can claim just about anything on the world wide web. As your comment that you “researched the web” is not accompanied by any links documenting your findings, we cannot conclude anything other than that you are wrong and that our identification is correct.

      Reply
  2. About 2 and 1/2 years ago I was bit on my lower back by a Tussock Moth Caterpillar. Now years later I have been diagnosed with Shingles. I have a very painful red purrulent rash from near the site of the bite involving my lower back, below my bra and above my buttocks which travels around to my mid front and down to my groin. Could this untreated bite be responsible after this time elapse. I had no treatment at time of exposure.

    Reply
  3. We had a Cicadas invasion this year. The pupae crawled up the side of the house in droves to the point we couldn’t stand any more. I smacked them with a flyswatter and killed close to 100 a day as they emerged. After every session of swatting, my nose ra profusely for the rest of the day. I do not suffer from pollen allergies so I have determined that I am allergic to cicada guts

    Reply

Leave a Comment