Locust vs Cicada: Uncovering the Key Differences

Locusts and cicadas are both insects that often garner attention due to their unique lifecycles and, at times, their propensity for causing damage. However, it’s essential to recognize that these creatures are not the same and belong to different insect groups.

Locusts are a type of grasshopper, characterized by their long, powerful hind legs, antennas, and large wings. They are known for their destructive behavior when they form massive swarms during their infrequent population explosions. On the other hand, cicadas are part of the true bug family, featuring black bodies, large red-brown eyes, and membranous wings with orange veins. They are known for their loud courting sounds made by adult males and unique appearance.

While both locusts and cicadas can be seen as pests in some situations, their impact on the environment and human life can vary significantly. Locust swarms have the potential to devastate agriculture, while cicadas’ physical damage is usually limited to minor twig injuries, known as flagging. So, understanding their differences is essential for managing these insects appropriately.

Locusts vs Cicadas: Basic Overview

Classification and Relation to Other Insects

Locusts and cicadas both belong to the insect class, but they are quite different in many aspects. Locusts are a type of grasshopper, belonging to the order Orthoptera, while cicadas belong to the order Hemiptera and are more closely related to leafhoppers and spittlebugs12.

Physical Appearance

Locusts:

  • Long, powerful back legs for jumping
  • Can have short or long wings, depending on phase

Cicadas:

  • Larger and bulkier than locusts
  • Prominent eyes, placed wide apart on the head
  • Transparent, veined wings, with a characteristic shape

Life Cycle and Lifespan

Locusts:

Locusts go through three stages in their life cycle – egg, nymph, and adult. Their lifespan usually lasts about several weeks to a few months, depending on environmental conditions.

Cicadas:

Cicada life cycles are more diverse than locusts’:

  • Dogday cicadas: typical lifespan is 2-5 years3
  • Periodical cicadas: emerge every 13 or 17 years4

Comparison Table

Feature Locusts Cicadas
Order Orthoptera Hemiptera
Family Acrididae (for most species) Cicadidae
Related to Grasshoppers Leafhoppers, spittlebugs
Lifespan Several weeks to few months 2-5 years (Dogday), 13 or 17 years (Periodical)
Stages in life cycle Egg, nymph, adult Egg, nymph, adult
Distinct physical features Powerful back legs Wide-set eyes, transparent veined wings

Behavior and Habits

Swarming and Solitary Behavior

  • Cicadas: These insects are typically solitary, living underground as nymphs before emerging to molt1.
  • Locusts: They can exhibit both solitary and gregarious behavior, transforming into swarming locusts under certain conditions2.
Cicadas Locusts
Solitary Yes Yes
Gregarious No Yes, in swarms3

Mating and Reproduction

Cicadas

  • Males produce sounds to attract females for mating4.
  • After mating, females lay eggs in plant tissue, with nymphs hatching and falling to the ground1.

Locusts

  • Their mating and reproduction processes are similar to other grasshoppers2.
  • Serotonin levels increase in locusts during the gregarious phase5.

Feeding Patterns

Cicadas

  • Nymphs feed on plants’ root fluids while underground1.
  • Adults consume mostly plant sap4.

Locusts

  • Primarily feed on plants6.
  • Can cause widespread damage to crops during swarming2.

Impact on the Environment

Destruction to Crops and Plants

Locusts are notorious for the destruction they cause to crops and vegetation. In East Africa, these insects have devoured thousands of hectares of farmland and forests, threatening food security for millions across the region1. Cicadas, on the other hand, are not harmful to humans, pets, household gardens, or crops2.

  • Locusts: Cause massive damage to crops and vegetation
  • Cicadas: Harmless to crops and gardens

Population Fluctuations and Plagues

Locust swarms have been linked to famine and human migration throughout history3. In recent years, outbreaks have reached their worst levels in decades, with hundreds of billions of locusts emerging in East Africa4. Cicadas are known for their periodical, predictable life cycles, appearing in North America every 13 or 17 years2. Unlike locusts, they do not form destructive swarms.

Insects Population Fluctuations
Locusts Outbreaks can reach massive levels, causing widespread destruction
Cicadas Periodical life cycles, non-destructive

Ecological Role and Environmental Adaptations

Both locusts and cicadas play important roles in their respective ecosystems. Locusts are herbivores, consuming large amounts of vegetation, while cicadas feed on tree sap2. Due to their differences in food sources and behavior, their environmental adaptations also vary significantly.

Locusts typically thrive in regions experiencing unusual weather patterns, such as heavy rainfall, which promotes rapid vegetation growth, providing the insects with an abundant food source5. Cicadas, conversely, are more prevalent in North American forests during springtime2.

  • Locusts: Thrive in regions with abnormal weather patterns
  • Cicadas: Appear in North American forests in spring

Distinctive Features and Comparison

Size, Color, and Shape

  • Locusts are part of the Orthoptera family, which includes grasshoppers. They typically range from 0.5 to 3 inches in length and have a slim, elongated body shape.
  • Cicadas, from the family Cicadidae, are larger insects measuring 1 to 1.5 inches long with stout bodies.
Feature Locust Cicada
Size 0.5 to 3 inches 1 to 1.5 inches
Body Shape Slim & elongated Stout

Wings and Flight Patterns

  • Locust wings are designed for long-distance migration and are clear or translucent with green or brown hues.
  • Cicada wings are broad, membranous with orange veins, and usually folded over their back like a tent when at rest.
  • Cicadas have a shorter flight range and weaker flight patterns compared to locusts.

Sounds, Songs, and Buzzing

  • Locusts produce minimal sounds, primarily generated by wing movement during flight, which is not audible to humans.
  • Cicadas create loud, buzzing sounds using their tymbals, reaching up to 120 decibels. Males use these sounds for courting and attracting females.
Feature Locust Cicada
Sound Source Wing movement Tymbals
Decibel Level Not audible Up to 120 decibels

A few examples of key differences:

  • Cicadas have large red-brown eyes, while locusts have smaller, less distinct eyes.
  • Locusts have long antennae, whereas cicadas have shorter antennae.

Comparing their characteristics:

  • Behavior: Cicadas are mainly known for their loud buzzy sounds and emergence after many years spent underground, while locusts are known for their destructive swarming behavior that can devastate crops.
  • Lifespan: Annual cicadas can spend 2-5 years as underground nymphs, and periodical cicadas have nymphal stages of 13 or 17 years. Locusts have shorter lifespans, often between several weeks and a few months, depending on the species.
  • Root-feeding: Cicada nymphs feed on root xylem fluids, while locust nymphs feed on grasses and other vegetation.

Notable Cicada and Locust Species

Periodical and Annual Cicadas

Periodical cicadas are known for their synchronized 17- or 13-year life cycles and dense choruses. They have striking black bodies, red eyes, and red wing veins. Annual cicadas, like the dogday cicada, are larger, have a green or brown body with black markings, and shorter life cycles.

  • Periodical cicada features:

    • Synchronized life cycles
    • Striking colors
    • Red eyes and wing veins
  • Annual cicada features:

    • Shorter life cycles
    • Green or brown body
    • Black markings

Examples include the genus Magicicada for periodical cicadas and Neotibicen canicularis (dogday cicada) for annual cicadas. Males of both types produce loud singing for mating purposes, using a specialized membrane on their bodies.

Short-Horned Grasshoppers and Desert Locusts

Short-horned grasshoppers and desert locusts belong to the family Acrididae within the order Orthoptera. While both insects have similarities like short antennae and hind legs for jumping, desert locusts have the ability to undergo dramatic behavioral changes when environmental conditions favor their population growth, leading to swarms that cause massive crop damage.

Comparison table:

Characteristics Short-Horned Grasshoppers Desert Locusts
Antennae length Short Short
Legs Hind legs for jumping Hind legs for jumping
Swarming behavior Rarely Frequently during favorable conditions
Agricultural impact Minimal Significant in swarms

Examples of short-horned grasshopper species are Melanoplus sanguinipes and Aulocara elliotti. A notorious example of a desert locust is Schistocerca gregaria.

Frequently Asked Questions and Misconceptions

Are They Dangerous or Aggressive?

Cicadas and locusts are not dangerous or aggressive to humans. Both insects primarily feed on plants and are generally harmless to people. However, they can cause some damage to vegetation:

  • Cicadas: Damage caused by females laying eggs on twigs may result in twig dieback (flagging)
  • Locusts: Can devour vegetation during swarms, affecting agriculture

Cicada Stings and Allergies

Cicadas are often mistaken for being capable of stinging, but this is not true. They are not true bugs and don’t have the ability to sting. Although rare, some individuals may experience allergic reactions to cicadas. These reactions typically involve skin irritation from handling the insects.

Do Cicadas and Locusts Go Extinct?

Neither cicadas nor locusts are at risk of extinction. Both insects exhibit unique life cycles that allow them to continue thriving:

Feature Cicadas Locusts
Diet Plant sap Plant leaves
Sting No No
Aggressive No No
Extinction Risk Low Low
Life Cycle 13 or 17 years Metamorphosis

In summary, cicadas and locusts are not dangerous or aggressive insects and neither is at risk of extinction. Cicadas don’t sting, but some people may experience allergies when handling them.

Footnotes

  1. Cicadas | Illinois Extension | UIUC 2 3 4 5

  2. Periodical and “Dog-Day” Cicadas | Ohioline 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

  3. Dogday cicadas 2 3

  4. Periodical Cicadas | Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History 2 3 4

  5. Locust phase polyphenism: an update 2

  6. FAO – Locusts and other migratory pests

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 and shed skin from Oregon

 

Is this a Cicada? Good or bad bug?
Wed, Jun 17, 2009 at 9:49 PM
Thank you! Enjoying this bug site very much! We just started a veggie garden in a de-commissioned Christmas Tree farm… pulled out the trees in Jan. and had a large tractor pull stumps, then rip the roots out. We tilled, amended, limed and cover cropped the soil, and now there are pencil sized holes EVERYWHERE! This creature emerged from one hole this week, seemed damaged and dazed… lived in a jar for 2 days while I tried to identify it! Cicada?? Yesterday hubby found ANOTHER in his truck grill. There are shells (of the nymph?) on soil surface, too. Really want to know if this is a good or bad bug! The kids and I have so much fun taking time to ID all the critters we find! Thanks for the help! – Sonia R.
Sonia, Reagan Acres Farm
Estacada, OR.

Cicada and shed Exoskeleton
Cicada and shed Exoskeleton

Hi Sonia,
This is indeed a Cicada. We believe it is in the genus Okanagana, possibly Okanagana bella which can be viewed on BugGuide. We will check with Eric Eaton to see if he is in agreement with our identification. Cicadas are plant feeders. The nymphs live underground and feed off of the sap in the roots of plants. BugGuide indicates: “Despite their numbers and large size, cicadas do little damage to crops or trees.” We suspect that the large number of Cicadas on your farm were feeding from the roots of the Christmas trees.

Update from Eric Eaton
Sat, 20 Jun 2009 17:12:31 -0700 (PDT)
Yes, it is indeed a species of Okanagana, which is by far the most common genus found up there).
Eric

Sat, Jun 20, 2009 at 9:32 PM
Thank you! I read about this bugger… not supposed to be found in our area though? What could that mean… the neighbors (for that matter, the whole local valley here) for years have had unexplained Christmas tree “flagging” and death… a possible cause? Also, isn’t this a “periodical” that shouldn’t have emerged yet? By the way, many more “emerged today” and they were caught in garden in the act of “coming out of the ground” (are the big holes we found their “in” or “out” holes?) and emerging from their larval shells. We notice that they start out light, bright green and soon turn darker as they dry their wings. Where have they gone now that they have emerged? Thank you again and I so enjoy the site and your good information.

Hi Sonia,
Eric Eaton has confirmed our identification and has indicated that Okanagana is the most common genus of Cicada found in Oregon. The Periodical Cicadas in the genus Magicicada are not found in your area. Most Cicadas are annual, living underground as nymphs for about three years, and then emerging. Cicadas not of the periodical type emerge as adults in the same location each year.  There is no “inhole” so to speak. When the Cicada eggs hatch, the newly hatched nymphs burrow, but they are so small, they do not make noticeable holes. The holes you have found are the emergence holes. Many insects darken after metamorphosis when their exoskeletons harden. We do not believe the tree die-off is in any way related to the Cicadas. After emergence, Cicadas seek out a mate and reproduce. Eastern Annual Cicadas, known as Dogday Harvestflies, are more often heard than seen. The mating call can be very loud and is most often heard in the latter half of the summer.

Letter 2 – Cicada

 

big cicada
Hello.
My name is Isaac. I have emailed you before. I think the last time I emailed you I sent you a picture of a stag beetle. Anyway here is a picture of a cicada I thought you might like to post on your site. It’s a beautiful and very large cicada. I usually find plenty of annual cicadas all summer long but I rarely find these really big ones. Well I hope you like the picture. God bless!

Hi Isaac,
We believe your Cicada is in the genus Cacama, as evidenced by images on BugGuide. We wish you had provided us with a location. American Southwest??? Thanks for sending it to us.

Hey. I’m really sorry I forgot to give you my location. I live in Northern Alabama.

Update: (10/29/2006)
Cicada Identification
Hi There,
I thought I’d ID two of the cicadas you have posted on your web site. You tentitively ID the below as Cacama genus but these are not found in Alabama. They are a more western species grey in color and Cacama are small with small heads. This one is actually Tibicen auletes. The dead giveaway is its rather large size and heavy pruinosity with brown pronotal collar. I also help to identify a lot of the Cicadas on Bugguide. Well, hope that helps.
Gerry Bunker
Massachusetts Cicadas

Letter 3 – Cicada

 

weird bug
So, I open up the door to my dad’s SUV, looking for one of his Mott the Hoople cassettes, but as I step out of the truck, I feel this distinctive smack on my back (rhymes!). I look down and I see a big, black fly-beetle-wasp thing, buzzing around on its back. I didn’t think much of it. But about a month later (today) I see the same kind of bug, but this time it’s a tad smaller, and d-e-a-d. I snap a couple of pictures, and impale a pin through it and stick it to my cork-board. My mom and I have been looking all over your site looking for this strange bug. Since we cannot find this bug in any sort of reference we have, I have decided to email you about this situation hoping that I can identify this bug. Characteristics (dead bug found):
* Black
* 1 inch long, 1/5 inch wide, and 1 and 1/5 long counting wings folded back
* Hard exoskeleton
* Seemingly large stinger (if that is a stinger)
* Ugly
Hopefully the picture attachments work.
Jacob

Hi Jacob,
This is some species of Cicada. They are the loudest insects, often heard buzzing it trees. Eric Eaton just provided this more thorough identification: “I am pretty sure the cicada specimen submitted by Jacob is a species of Okanagana. If so, he lives in a northern or western state, as that is the major distribution for that genus. Eric”

Letter 4 – Cicada

 

What kind of bug is this?
We found this bug in our garden. We live in La Habra, CA (Orange County, near LA). It didn’t move much and started making a barely audible, high pitched, sound before it took off. It was about an inch long.
Thanks,
Pete

Hi Pete,
This is a Cicada. Western species are not as large as eastern species and tropical species get very large.

Letter 5 – 17 Year Locusts: Periodical Cicadas have arrived!!!

 

Very first periodical cicadas
Hi,
To go along with the nymph photos I sent you earlier, here are a few of the very first periodical cicadas of the year here in NE Illinois. They weren’t able to fly yet, but it was fun watching them waddle around. I took the opportunity to snap some pictures. There were three, and one of them was markedly smaller than the other two. Is this an indication of gender? Thanks, and keep up the good work!
Christina

Hi Christina,
Thank you for sending us your documentation of this momentous moment. 17 years ago, these Periodical Cicadas hatched from eggs, making them the insect with the longest life span. In insects where there is a marked size difference between sexes, it is usually the female that is larger. We don’t know if this is the case with Periodical Cicadas. For more information on the Periodical Cicadas, visit Sue’s new website.

Letter 6 – Another BUG OF THE MONTH MAY 2009: 17 Year Locusts, Scientists surprised By Unexpected Emergence Of Periodical Cicadas — Four Years Early

 

Large bee like insect with red round eyes.
Fri, May 8, 2009 at 10:21 AM
Hello. This morning while putting on my shorts, which contained this lovely thing, it stung me. I’m still not feeling well and have been unable to find out what it is.
We’ve live in this area for 4 years now, Central Virginia, and have never seen this before. Although now we are seeing them everywhere.
Kimberly with a very painful thigh.
South Central Virginia

Periodical Cicadas emerge early
Periodical Cicadas emerge early

Hi Kimberly,
We were so shocked by your report and photo of Periodical Cicadas or 17 Year Locusts, that we immediately did some research to find out what brood this was. We located a very interesting piece online on Science Daily that states: “The cause of these early emergences is unknown, but [Gene] Kritsky, in a paper to be published in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, has found evidence suggesting that mild winters can affect the trees that young cicadas feed upon which in turn interferes with the cicadas’ timekeeping resulting in their emerging early. ‘This phenomenon might be another biological response to increasing temperatures,’ Kritsky said. ” Can this be yet another piece of evidence that global warming is affecting the environment in very telling ways? Even more puzzling is that you were bitten. Cicadas do have sucking mouthparts and perhaps you were mistaken for a succulent sapling. Cicadamania indicates this is Brood II on an accelerated emergence. Generally, every 14 or 17 years, there is a mass emergence of millions of Magicicada individuals. They breed, provide food for birds and other wildlife, lay eggs and die. The young hatch, bury themselves underground, live there for 13 or 17 years, and then emerge as a new swarm. The 17 Year Locust, Magicicada septendecim, is one of the oldest living insects.

We had one in the house last week and killed it not knowing what it was. They are huge!!!
I’m guessing the fact that I put my shorts on with him in them probably scared the bejesus out of him and that’s why he bit me? I know it freaked me out. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of my shorts so fast.
Right now, it just mostly itches like a dickens.
We live in Chase City, Virginia. (acutally a little outside of it) These past couple of months we have done tons of excavating. First for a riding ring, then we had to lay a new septic drain field and last we had to lay a new well line. (sucky year for our yard).
Could all of that digging brought them out? We’ve also had a very large amount of rain. To the point of it being ridiculous.
I don’t know what type of trees they typically live on. We have lots of Oaks. A few momosas, pines, magnolia’s, a black walnut and a peach tree. There’s also a willow and a persimmon. (the spelling may be off on that one) We also had tons of holly tree’s but we’ve cut most of them down over the past year due to overgrowth before we bought the house.
So far, our’s in the only house around that has them. And, now that we know what they are, we won’t be so afraid of them..as long as they stay out of my clothes.
Thanks for your help.
Kim

Hi Kim,
Thanks for the follow-up information, especially since we have made this unusual occurrence a secondary Bug of the Month for May. We doubt that your excavation had anything to do with this unseasonal appearance. With the Magicicada species, there are various numbered broods that have differing and overlapping ranges. Some like Brood X, the largest of the broods which emerged in 2004, are very wide ranging. According to BugGuide: “There are four species with 13-year and three species with 17-year life cycles. The 13-year species are more southern, the 17-year species more northern.” National Geographic News indicates: “There are at least 12 broods of 17-year cicadas plus another three broods that emerge every 13 years. ‘A brood is a class year, like the graduates of 2004 who will be graduating this May,’ said Gene Kritsky, a biologist and cicada expert at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio. A brood emerges almost every year somewhere, sometimes overlapping with others. But none of the emergences matches the pure size of Brood X, which includes three cicada species: Magicicada septendecim ,Magicicada cassini , and Magicicada septendecula .” You may have an isolated pocket of Brood II since none of your neighbors have seen any. It might be that this atypical emergence is just beginning, and your neighbors homes will soon also be graced with Cicadas. Though there is a mass emergence, all individuals do not burrow to the surface on the same day. We expect that this atypical emergence is just beginning, and we will be getting additional reports from other areas in the coming days. Once again, thanks so much for allowing What’sThat Bug? to be among the first websites to report this occurrence this year. National Geographic News also has this to say about the life cycle of the Periodical Cicada: “After the cicadas have counted 17 years—’we really don’t know how they count the years,’ Kritsky said—they are ready to emerge, which usually happens in late spring when the soil reaches a temperature of about 64 Fahrenheit (18 Celsius)” and “Some scientists believe the mass emergence of the cicadas is part of a survival strategy. With so many of them, they collectively satiate their predators within a few days. Then the billions left uneaten are free to mate.” In 2000, several hundred thousand members of Brood X emerged in Cincinnati. According to National Geographic News’ 2004 coverage: “The outbreak was big enough for the cicadas to satiate their predators, sing, mate, and lay eggs. ‘If [the year 2000 Cincinnati nymphs] come out in 2017, we will have seen the evolution of a whole new brood,’ Kritsky said. ‘That’s cool.'” So Kim, your yard may be ground zero for the appearance of a new brood.

Update: Can Cicadas Bite?
10 May 2009
We have been trying to find out this information, and there is a very amusing posting on Cicada Mania that indicates they may bite. It states: “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. ” We would be more inclined to believe that Kim was scratched by the clawlike front legs.

Bite Remedy Sat, May 9, 2009 at 11:38 AM
Aloha Daniel –
About the cicada bite – to help with itching.
This is usually a great toxin extractor – a poultice of water and baking soda.
Used it as a child on bee/wasp stings. Use it over here in HI for centipede bites.
Non toxic, everyone has it around their kitchen. Cool water temp soothes the bite zone.
Eliza
Ha`iku

Bite Update: cicada bite
Sun, May 10, 2009 at 9:49 AM
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).
When talking to the public about insects, which I do often, I try to point out the difference between “does it bite?” and “can it bite?” Many insects can bite, but are very unlikely to do so. I suspect that a person could pick up 100 cicadas before they got bit by one.
I was once bitten by a praying mantis while feeding it a cricket. Part of the cricket dropped on the back of my hand and the praying mantis went down to eat it and chewed on my hand instead… and continued to chew while I yelped in a surprising amount of pain. I had to pry it off my hand with a piece of cardboard. It itched like crazy for days. I still have a tiny scar. This is an exceptional case, but makes me think twice about what we tell people, especially bug lovers, about what can and cannot bite.
Vince
Rum Village Nature Center
Indiana

Thanks Vince, for your first hand account. We are just guessing, but we suppose your thumb is considerably tougher than Kim’s thigh, and if the thumb skin could be penetrated, the thigh might be like butter.

Letter 7 – Cicada

 

Giant, Screaming…Fly? Sat, Jun 27, 2009 at 1:58 AM
I snapped these pics of what I assumed was a (giant) dead fly. It is approximately the length of a Bic lighter (a technical measurement here in Georgia). Later in the evening, when I went to take better photos, we found it stuck to the bottom of the door frame. When I tried to sweep it off, I could see its little legs grabbing the door frame and realized it was alive.
I started to close the back door, and when the fly ended up between the door and the threshold, it let out a LOUD, long scream. We finally pushed the door shut, and every time we got close to the not so little guy, who was now flying around the house, it would start screaming again. We decided it was suffering and snuffed it out…but what in the world was it? Its underside was a bright yellow, almost like a glowing lightning bug. Googling giant screaming fly hasn’t gotten me very far. Thanks–
J. Campbell
Athens, GA

Cicada
Cicada

Hi J.,
Your Giant Screaming Fly is actually a Cicada.  We are not certain what species of Cicada you have though.  Certain Cicadas are considered to be the loudest insects.  The scream is actually used by the male Cicada to attract a mate.

Letter 8 – Cicada

 

flying insect
July 14, 2009
can you please identify this insect for me? Its wings click when it moves – it was having a problem flying when I photographed it. The picture tells the best story
don’t understand what you mean? if you mean my name, then Iris
Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Cicada
Cicada

Cicada  (Ed. Note:  Sometimes we just email a brief answer without posting a letter and photo.  This happens for various reasons, but lack of time is often a decisive factor.  Iris’ response below prompted us to go back into the trash to find her letter so we could post it.)

Dear Daniel
I searched for information on the Cicada on the internet and after seeing this wonderful video clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjLiWy2nT7U I shall never take these creatures for granted. They are a magnificent.
thanks again
Iris Churcher

Hi again Iris,
You should know that your species of Cicada is not the same as the Magicicada in the video.  Those 17 Year Locusts, as they are erroneously termed, are a phenomenon of nature, but your Cicada is no less wondrous.  Cicadas from Australia are believed to be the loudest insects in the world.

Letter 9 – Cicada

 

Gigantic Fly?
June 29, 2010
I found this bug on a Tomato plant (June ’10). Its’ body (not counting the wings) was slightly larger than a US Quarter. It didn’t appear to be eating any of the plant and didn’t move until a couple of hours after I had taken the picture when it moved underneath the leaf – this was after sunset.
Chris
Twin Cites, MN

Cicada

Hi Chris,
Whenever we get an email with a reference to a large fly in the subject line and the email arrives in mid to late summer, we immediately suspect a Cicada, and this was the case with your letter even before we looked at the photo.  Your Cicada is probably in the genus Tibicen.  Appearances generally begin in July, so your individual is earlier than most, and the size you indicate is smaller than most.  We are reluctant to try to identify your Cicada to the species level, but one good candidate might be Linne’s Cicada, Tibicen linnei, which is profiled on BugGuide.  One photo on BugGuide with a finger for scale indicates that it is in the size range of your specimen, and the data page on BugGuide shows that Minnesota is likely in the range and that there are some reported June appearances (though they are in the southern portion of the range).

Letter 10 – Cicada

 

Found on front porch
Location: Southern Nevada
July 21, 2011 2:28 am
As I was leaving my Mother in Law’s house, I was attacked by 2 big bugs that were attracted to the light next to the door (I wasn’t attacked as much as I was just in the way). I waited for one to land and it looked like this. My wife thinks it is a cicada, and since I’ve never seen one, I believe her. Just curious. thanks!
Signature: Jay21310

Cicada

Hi Jay,
Your wife is correct.  This is indeed a Cicada.  We don’t get many Cicada images from the western states, and we thought the pale coloration on this specimen might make it easy to identify to the species level.  Interestingly, we found a very entertaining page called Some Cicadas from Las Vegas, NV, and there was a very similar looking photo that was identified as belonging to the genus
Diceroprocta.  It was the conclusion of the author that the photo on Some Cicadas from Las Vegas, NV, is a lighter form of Diceroprocta apache and this photo on BugGuide tends to support that conclusion.

Letter 11 – Cicada

 

What’s this bug?
Location: Central Texas – HIll Country
August 25, 2011 8:49 am
I work at TPWD at a State Park and found this one close to our headquarters. At first I though it might be locus but looking at locus online I couldn’t fit one that look like it. Thanks
Signature: Sara

Cicada

Hi Sara,
This is a Cicada, though in some parts of the country they are called Locusts.  We believe your Cicada is in the genus
Tibicen, and in our opinion, the closest match is to Tibicen resh which may be viewed on BugGuide.

Letter 12 – Cicada

 

Cicada
Location: Salmon River Idaho, near Riggins appx 2000ft
December 2, 2011 12:17 am
On the sandy beach of the Salmon River in Idaho on July 9, 2011 I encountered this cicada, all alone. There were others in trees. Thanks
Signature: Antone G. Holmquist

Cicada: Neoplatypedia constricta perhaps

Dear Antone,
We believe we have correctly identified your Cicada as
Neoplatypedia constricta, or another member of the genus, based on this photo posted to BugGuide.

Letter 13 – Cicada: Platypedia similis perhaps

 

Subject: Tiny cicadas; we call them ”snapping bugs”
Location: Edgewood, NM at 6800’; pinion and juniper forest
May 25, 2012 12:09 pm
Hi again! Been awhile since my last submission to you guys. We have been invaded by the cutest little cicadas I have ever seen. I’m used to the giant ones that come out in late summer or the periodical ones; these look a bit like the 17 year ones in Illinois except that their eyes aren’t red and they are about 1/4 the size. Also, they don’t buzz; they sound like a small child snapping his or her fingers. There are so many of them outside that it sounds like an entire school of kids snapping their fingers randomly. The cicadas seem to prefer junipers, but this one was snapping away in a small apple tree.
Signature: Mike

Cicada: Platypedia similis perhaps

Hi Mike,
This is a member of the genus
Okanagana and there are many similar looking species in the genus.  We suspect this might be a Mountain Cicada, Okanagana bella, because of the altitude of your sighting.  You can see some photos of the Mountain Cicada on BugGuide if you would like to compare them to your individual.  Your observations about the call of this Cicada being like the snapping of fingers is interesting.  We are going to try to locate its call online.  The Selected Cicada Species of the Western United States has many sound recordings, but none of the members of the genus Okanagana sound like snapping fingers to us.  Perhaps you can play through the songs to see if any matches what you heard.  

Ok, thanks for the suggestions.  It looks exactly like a Okanagana bella, but the song is completely different.  When I sit and watch them, they don’t buzz with their abdominal plates like “normal” cicadas; it seems that they are doing a quick wing flap which creates the “snap” sound.  I can’t tell if they are hitting their wings on the trees or if they are just catching the air around them.  For their size, the sound is surprisingly loud.  Does that help?

We would love to spend more time on this Mike, but there are so many unanswered questions in our mailbox right now.  If you find your Cicada’s call on the Selected Cicada Species of the Western United States, please let us know.

I think I found what it is–a Platypedia putnami (or other related species).  They only call with wing slaps and look exactly like the pic I sent.  If you get a chance, listen to the song and see if you agree that they sound like snapping fingers.  Thanks for helping!

Sorry–I meant a Playpedia similis.  Their calls are almost exactly a second apart.
Mike

Thanks for getting back to us Mike.  The two genera, Platypedia and Okanagana are in the same Cicada subfamily.  BugGuide has some nice images of Platypedia putnami  and they are reported from states bordering New Mexico, however, we cannot locate any images of Platypedia similis. Interestingly, the Cicadas North of Mexico website puts Platypedia in the subfamily Platypediinae, the Crepitating Cicadas.  Crepitate is defined as “To make a crackling or popping sound; crackle” on the Online Medical Dictionary.  Some folks refer to snapping fingers as “popping”.

Letter 14 – Cherryeye Cicada from Australia: First Cicada Photo of the season

 

Subject: Giant winged bug.
Location: Victoria, Australia.
January 10, 2014 8:54 pm
My dog was going crazy in the backyard and I came out to find this huge winged creature crawling around. It had a broken wing, and didn’t seem vicious in the slightest. I removed it away from my dog but not sure if she had already came in contact with the bug, and if it could it harm her.
Signature: Greatly appreciated, Maddi.

Cherryeye Cicada
Cherryeye Cicada

Hi Maddi,
This is a Cicada, and we were only going to use your correctly focused image in this posting, however, close inspection of the blurry photo (the one where the photographer considered the background content to be more important than the Cicada) revealed the stunningly red eyes.  That really assisted in our identification, because we quickly learned on Australian Museum website that this Cicada is known as the Red Eye Cicada,
Psaltoda moerens.  The Australian Museum does provide this information:  “The Red Eye cicada can be very common one year, with thousands of individuals in a few trees, but then completely absent the next year.”  We learned on Cicada Mania that this species is also commonly called the Cherryeye.  The University of Queensland website has photos of mounted specimens as well as a link to the song of this species.  Some species of Cicadas are among the loudest insects in the world.  Elsewhere on the University of Queensland site, the song is described as:  “A rich growl that increases in volume until it becomes a roar. This then breaks up into a melodious yodel sequence, which then fades away. This sequence sounds something like: ‘de-e-yaw de-e-yaw de-e-yaw de-e-yaw de-e-yaw de-e-yaw de-e-yaw de-e-yaw de-e-yaw de-e-yaw de-e-yaw de-e-yaw de-e-yeeeeeeeeeeeeeawwww…'”  The limited range is listed as:  “From Kroombit Tops in Queensland south to the eastern half of Tasmania. In Victoria it occurs west to the Grampians, with isolated populations on the Victorian/South Australian border and in South Australia at the Adelaide Hills. In Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales the species is mostly restricted to the highlands, on or adjacent to the Great Dividing Range. Adults occur from November until March.”  Lastly, the INaturalist site compiles much of the preceding information and also supplies additional information, including:  ” They feed primarily on eucalyptus but also on Angophora trees.”  Cicada nymphs spend several years underground feeding on the fluids in the roots of plants, and the occasionally emerge in great numbers.  Australia is known for Cicada diversity and there are many species with interesting common names.  Cicadas do not sting, so they really can’t harm your dog, though once we did publish a report of a person being bitten by a Cicada which has a mouth designed to pierce and suck fluids.  Cicadas are considered edible, and a great source of protein.

AKA Red Eye Cicada
AKA Red Eye Cicada

 

Letter 15 – Cicada

 

Subject: cicada nymphs??
Location: Sandia Park, NM
May 27, 2014 4:40 pm
Hi,
Have seen adult cicadas all our lives-are these nymphs? They are all over our pine trees and make lots of “clicking noises” sort of like the initial cicada noises.
Thanks!
Signature: Warner family

Cicada
Cicada

Dear Warner Family,
Immature Cicadas, known as nymphs, live underground and they do not have wings.  These are adult Cicadas of some small species.  We will attempt to identify your Cicadas to the species level.

Thanks so much for getting us this far.
We really appreciate your site for all our bug-questions!

Cicada
Cicada
Cicada
Cicada

Letter 16 – Cicada

 

Subject: Flying insect ID
Location: Paradise, CA
June 23, 2014 5:32 pm
I’ve always wondered what these are. I almost never see them, but they make a constant buzzing sound.
Signature: Thanks, Steve

Cicada
Cicada

Hi Steve,
This is a Cicada, but we are not certain of the species.

Letter 17 – Cicada

 

Subject: Large Mothlike Fly
Location: Hidalgo County, New Mexico
June 5, 2015 2:59 pm
Found this fly on a yucca and later on a mesquite in the middle of the desert. Later, when it had come in and landed on a mesquite, I got very close to inspect, and noticed its proboscis fully extended into the branch, as if it were drinking from the inside of the stem. It’s very large and quite peculiar, and I’d just like to know what it is. Thanks.
Signature: Daniel

Cicada
Cicada

Dear Daniel,
This is a Cicada, and we are not certain of the species.  Cicadas are large insects, frequently mistaken for large flies, that are able to produce very audible sounds.  We are postdating your submission to go live while we are on holiday later in June.

Thanks! I new it wasn’t exactly a fly, but fly-like. I did some research of my own too and noticed cicadas don’t all have the periodical life cycle. This is probably a dog day type, given my location. Thanks again for the news!

Letter 18 – Cicada

 

Subject: Northern minnesota
Location: Northern minnesota
July 31, 2015 1:34 pm
Trying to figure out what this bug could be.
Signature: Doesn’t matter

Cicada
Cicada

This is a Cicada, and it appears to be a small species, but we have not had any luck identifying a genus.  The coloration is quite unusual with the green wings and orange legs, but the wings appear to not be fully expanded, which may mean it has just metamorphosed into an adult.  We appreciate any help our readership can provide regarding a species identification.

Letter 19 – Cicada

 

Subject: Weird bug
Location: Michigan
January 24, 2016 8:27 pm
I found it dead, it’s bigg and weird looking. What is it?
Signature: Me

Cicada
Cicada

Cicadas are often mistaken for giant flies.  They are heard more frequently than they are seen.  Cicadas are considered the loudest insects in the world and they can be heard calling from tree tops during the latter half of summer.

t͎h͎a͎n͎k͎y͎o͎u͎ s͎o͎ m͎u͎c͎h͎! t͎r͎y͎i͎n͎g͎ t͎o͎ f͎i͎g͎u͎r͎e͎ o͎u͎t͎ w͎h͎a͎t͎ i͎t͎ i͎s͎ h͎a͎s͎ b͎e͎e͎n͎ d͎r͎i͎v͎i͎n͎g͎ m͎e͎ c͎r͎a͎z͎y͎.

Letter 20 – Cicada

 

Subject: Hey
Location: 1055 university ave bx,n.y
August 8, 2016 8:25 pm
Hi. My name is luz n i live at bronx.n.y.usa.
My cat caught this bug i heard it chirping like a grasshopper but its a big fly looking thing
Signature: Luz Rodriguez

Cicada dragged in by Cat
Cicada dragged in by Cat

Dear Luz,
Your cat dragged in an Annual Cicada.  The chirping noise you mentioned is typical of Cicadas, and some species of Cicada are considered the loudest insects on planet earth.  According to Live Science:  “The chirping and clicking noises of the male cicada are actually a species-specific mating call that can be heard by females up to a mile (1.6 kilometers) away.”

Letter 21 – Cicada

 

Subject: Cicada casualty
Location: Oakville, Ontario, Canada
December 12, 2016 7:47 pm
I gather this insect is a cicada, but I wonder if its demise was due to the powdery substance on it, if that could be smaller insects or a fungus. It just landed and died. This photo is from August 2013.
Signature: Lulu

Cicada
Cicada

Dear Lulu,
We are unable to determine the cause of death of this Cicada, but it does appear to have a red Mite crawling on it.  We will be postdating your submission to go live during our trip away from the office for the holidays, and this mystery will give our readership an opportunity to ponder what caused the demise of your Cicada.

Thanks!  BTW it was the bug, not me that landed & died!~~~

funny.  We didn’t notice the missing “t” in it and we will correct the typo.

Letter 22 – Cicada

 

Subject:  Cicadas
Geographic location of the bug:  Omaha, Nebraska
Date: 08/06/2019
Time: 03:16 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Can you please try to identify this species of cicada? Sadly, it looks like it met it’s death with a vehicle, but does not look too far gone to identify.
How you want your letter signed:  Caleb Kilpatrick

Cicada: Megatibicen pronotalis

Dear Caleb,
We believe your Cicada might be
Megatibicen pronotalis which is pictured on BugGuide as well as being reported from Nebraska.

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.

  • 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.

19 thoughts on “Locust vs Cicada: Uncovering the Key Differences”

  1. I found your wonderful site because my four-year-old son just found a cicada with red eyes on our kitchen steps, which we identified as the 17-year Linnaeus’s cicada in our Songs of Insects book, and I’m guessing we’re in the Brood II area, judging from the map in Songs of Insects. We are in central Virginia (Fluvanna County)–seems like this guy (he seems on the small side compared to the other cicadas we’ve seen here) is 4 years early?

    Reply
  2. I don’t know if the cicadas actually have messed up time keeping. They might just be prepping for the switching of the poles in 2012. How long have we watched them anyway? Do we know that they always go about 17 years?

    Btw, while the earth is warming, it is not mainly from human activity. A lot or most of it is methane levels rising in the atmosphere. Methane is 25 times more powerful than CO2.
    http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/39973/113/

    Reply
  3. I can confirm that the periodical cicada will spear you. This happened to me when I had five or six of them on my hand a few years back (they last emerged here in Maryland in, I think, 2006). It was just about painful enough to be noticed. It was definitely the proboscis, and not a claw, in my case.

    Reply
  4. I’m guessing that they recently moved into an area populated by these guys, or the cicadas are spreading, because it’s kinda hard to coexist with these guys and not know about them…

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  5. When I lived in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California at about 3500′, the cicadas we had there matched your in size, appearance, and voice description. I would describe the call as being more like the clicking of a retractable ball-point pen than a finger snap, but perhaps we just are using different ways to describe the same noise.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your input. Related species in the same genus have similar traits, including appearance and most likely calls.

      Reply
  6. Here in Georgia they appear every year? The only way I can imagine them being in the ground for 13 to 17 years. Last year was a big year we sat on our porch and watched some mating, some were attaching to shrubs and trees. We even saw the white bodies with red eyes. So when I read it will be 13 to 17 years before we see them again I “laugh out loud” they come out EVERY year at least in Georga. I am not saying they were only in the ground a year. I am saying the ones we see this year in Georgia might have went under ground 13 years ago and the ones we will see next years could have lived there 13 years ago and so forth. But THEY APPEAR HERE EVERY YEAR. Here is Burke, Richmond, Columbia and Glascock County, I have live in these county and have heard their noise every year. Some times the noise in unbearable.

    Reply
    • You might have overlapping broods in your area. Periodical Cicadas do spend either 17 or 13 years undergound. Within broods, there are also some individuals with differing biological clocks.

      Reply
    • The range is correct, and the Platypediaspecies are smaller Cicadas, so it is possible. WE thought the mention of pine as a habitat for the Cicadas might assist in the identification, however, BugGuide does not mention pine in relation to Platypedia.

      Reply
  7. I’m so glad I found this page! I saw these exact same bugs in the Sandias today and wondered what they were! Their sound was just like muted “clacking” to me.

    Reply
  8. I live in Portland, Oregon. There is this strange bug that usually stays in one position rarely moving in the warm weather. It can fly, but mainly puts itself anywhere around and on the house. It’s about the size of a skinny thumb nail. It is pale brown in color, and has four legs. What is this?

    Reply
  9. In South Africa you get a few strange bugs but one of these little buggers was bashing against the window screaming like an infuriated winged banshee. It was about the size of my thumb. Eventually it gave up and started doing that normal high pitched noise. Creepy

    Reply
  10. I saw my neighbors catching it and they decided to keep it but every time it gets grabbed my ears are killing me

    Reply

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