The Life Cycle of Cicadas: From Egg to Adult

“The Life Cycle of Cicadas: From Egg to Adult” takes readers on a captivating journey into the fascinating world of cicadas. From their humble beginnings as eggs laid on branches and twigs, to their underground transformation during the nymph stage, and finally their emergence as adults, cicadas go through a remarkable transformation. With over 3,000 species, including both annual and periodical cicadas, these remarkable insects are found worldwide. While annual cicadas are commonly found around the globe, periodical cicadas are a unique phenomenon exclusive to the central and eastern United States. This article explores the intricacies of each stage, highlighting the distinct characteristics and behavior of cicadas. Delving into their 17-year burrowing cycle, the article sheds light on the mysterious nature of periodical cicadas and how they contribute to the ecosystem. As readers delve into this captivating article, they will gain a newfound appreciation for these intriguing creatures and their role in the natural world.

Egg Stage

In the egg stage of their life cycle, female cicadas lay up to 400 eggs. These eggs are typically laid on branches and twigs, where they are safe and secure. The female cicadas carefully choose the locations for their eggs, ensuring that they are placed in spots that will provide adequate resources and protection for their offspring. The eggs are small and round, with a gel-like outer layer that helps to protect them from the elements.

After the eggs are laid, they undergo a period of incubation. This process typically takes a few weeks, during which time the eggs are kept warm and protected. The exact length of the incubation period can vary depending on factors such as temperature and humidity levels. Once the incubation period is complete, the eggs hatch, marking the beginning of the nymph stage.

Nymph Stage

After hatching, the newly emerged cicadas enter the nymph stage of their development. During this stage, they immediately go underground and remain there for the entirety of their developmental period. This underground habitat provides the nymphs with the necessary protection and resources they need to grow and mature.

The duration of the nymph stage can vary depending on the species. Some species may spend several years underground, while others may only spend a few months. The exact length of time in the nymph stage is determined by a combination of factors, including environmental conditions and the specific needs of each species.

While underground, the nymphs feed on sap from tree roots. They have specialized mouthparts that are adapted for piercing and sucking, allowing them to extract the nutrients they need. This feeding process is essential for their growth and development. As the nymphs continue to feed and grow, they shed their exoskeleton multiple times, gradually becoming larger and more developed.

Shedding Exoskeleton

Once the nymphs have completed their growth and development underground, they go through a process known as molting. This is when they reemerge from the ground and shed their exoskeletons. The molting process is a crucial step in their transformation from nymphs to adult cicadas.

During molting, the nymphs find a suitable surface, such as a tree trunk or a wall, where they can securely anchor themselves. They then split open their old exoskeleton, revealing the new one underneath. The process of shedding the exoskeleton can take several hours, during which time the cicadas are vulnerable and immobile.

Once the shedding process is complete, the cicadas emerge with their new exoskeletons fully formed. These exoskeletons are not only larger but also harder and more durable than those of the nymphs. The adult cicadas are now ready to enter the final stage of their development.

Adult Stage

In the adult stage, cicadas reach their final form and are fully developed. They are now capable of flight and reproduction. This stage is relatively short, typically lasting only four to six weeks. During this time, the adult cicadas focus on finding mates and reproducing, as this is the primary purpose of their adult lives.

Adult cicadas have specialized organs that allow them to produce their distinct buzzing sounds. These sounds are created by the males as a way to attract females for mating. Each species of cicada has a unique sound that they use to communicate and recognize potential mates.

Once the mating process is complete, the female cicadas lay their eggs, beginning the cycle anew. The adult cicadas have fulfilled their purpose, and their lifespan comes to an end. Their bodies eventually deteriorate, and they return to the ground to become part of the natural cycle of life and decay.

Annual Cicadas

There are more than 3,000 species of cicadas, categorized as annual and periodical cicadas. Annual cicadas are found worldwide and have shorter developmental cycles. These cicadas complete their life cycle in just one year, with their nymphs spending a shorter period underground before emerging as adults.

Annual cicadas can be found in various habitats around the world, including forests, grasslands, and even urban environments. They are known for their distinctive buzzing and clicking sounds, which are often heard during the summer months. Despite their short lifespan above ground, annual cicadas play an important role in the ecosystem.

Periodical Cicadas

Periodical cicadas are unique to the central and eastern United States. They have longer brooding cycles and burrow underground for several years before emerging as adults. The most well-known periodical cicadas are members of Brood X, which is expected to emerge in 2021 in several states in the United States.

The brooding cycle of periodical cicadas is much longer compared to annual cicadas. The length of this cycle can vary depending on the species, with some periodical cicadas having 13-year cycles and others having 17-year cycles. This extended period of time spent underground makes periodical cicadas particularly intriguing and fascinating to scientists and nature enthusiasts alike.

When the time is right, periodical cicadas emerge from the ground in massive numbers. This synchronized emergence, known as a “brood,” is a unique phenomenon that is not observed in other insect species. The abundance of cicadas during a brood can have a significant impact on the local ecosystem, providing a rich food source for predators and influencing various ecological processes.


Cicadas face a wide range of predators throughout their life cycle. These predators include birds, reptiles, and mammals that feed on the cicadas for sustenance. The abundance of cicadas during periods of emergence provides a plentiful food source for these predators.

Predation plays an essential role in controlling cicada populations and maintaining a balanced ecosystem. The presence of predators helps to prevent cicada populations from becoming too large and overwhelming their surroundings. It also ensures that cicadas do not cause excessive damage to the vegetation they feed on.

While predators can have a significant impact on cicada populations, they are not the only factor influencing the abundance of cicadas. Environmental conditions, including temperature, humidity, and other factors, also play a crucial role in determining cicada populations and their patterns of emergence.

Environmental Benefits

Cicadas provide several environmental benefits that contribute to the overall health and functioning of ecosystems. One benefit is their role in pruning tree branches during oviposition. When female cicadas lay their eggs, they use their ovipositors to create small slits in tree branches. This pruning action can stimulate new growth and improve the overall health of the trees.

Another benefit of cicadas is their ability to aerate the soil with their digging. As the nymphs burrow underground during their developmental stage, they create tunnels and channels in the soil. This helps to improve drainage and increase the oxygenation of the soil, benefiting the surrounding vegetation and promoting healthy root growth.

Additionally, cicadas provide nourishment for other animals in the ecosystem. Their bodies are rich in nutrients and serve as a valuable food source for various predators, such as birds and mammals. The abundance of cicadas during their emergence can support the growth and survival of these predators, contributing to the overall biodiversity of the ecosystem.

Brood X Cicadas

One of the most anticipated cicada events in recent years is the emergence of Brood X cicadas, which is expected to occur in 2021. Brood X is a group of periodical cicadas that emerges every 17 years in several states in the United States. This emergence is a highly significant event for scientists, nature enthusiasts, and the general public.

Brood X cicadas are expected to emerge in massive numbers, creating a spectacle that is both awe-inspiring and fascinating. The synchronized emergence of these cicadas allows scientists to study their behavior, ecology, and impact on the environment in more detail. It also provides an opportunity for the public to witness and appreciate the unique biology and natural history of cicadas.

During the emergence of Brood X, the deafening chorus of cicadas fills the air, creating a distinct sound that is both captivating and overwhelming. The sheer number and intensity of the cicadas’ buzzing and clicking sounds can be an unforgettable experience for those fortunate enough to witness it.

Unique and Fascinating Creatures

Cicadas are truly unique and fascinating creatures. Their long brooding cycles and underground lifestyles make them intriguing subjects of scientific research and observation. Scientists continue to study and uncover the various adaptations and strategies that cicadas have developed to survive in their specific habitats.

One of the most remarkable aspects of cicadas is their ability to remain underground for extended periods, sometimes as long as 17 years. During this time, they rely on specialized mechanisms to survive and thrive in the subterranean environment. These mechanisms include dormancy, slow metabolic rates, and resource allocation strategies that allow them to conserve energy and resources.

Cicadas also exhibit interesting behavior and produce unique sounds. The synchronized emergence of large numbers of cicadas during broods is a behavior that is not commonly observed in other insect species. The distinctive sounds produced by male cicadas are not only a means of attracting mates but also a defining characteristic of these fascinating creatures.

In conclusion, cicadas go through three stages of life: the egg, nymph, and adult stages. They are classified into annual and periodical cicadas, with annual cicadas found worldwide and periodical cicadas unique to the central and eastern United States. Cicadas play important roles in their ecosystems, acting as both prey and contributors to environmental health. The emergence of Brood X cicadas in 2021 is a highly anticipated event for scientists and nature enthusiasts alike, offering a unique opportunity to study and appreciate these captivating insects. With their long brooding cycles, special adaptations, and intriguing behaviors, cicadas continue to captivate and fascinate those who encounter them in their natural habitats.

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