The Buzz About Cicadas



Story and Photos by Jim Moore

suppose many folks heard the buzz on the news, this last spring, about the emergence of billions of cicadas back east. These are the famous Seventeen-year Periodical Cicadas, so called because it takes their nymphs seventeen years of feeding underground on tree roots to reach the flying adult stage. These Cicadas only live in the eastern US states. Here in the mountain and valley regions of Nor Cal our cicadas are known as Annual Cicadas.

This is because nymphs of our various species usually emerge each year; however, with a lifetime averaging 2-5 years for the nymphs, not necessarily all together within the same year for any given species. There are over 80 species of Cicadas in California. Our Cicadas also feed underground on the sap from roots of various trees and shrubs. In Nor Cal, cicada nymphs can emerge from April through August, depending on species, and elevation temperature differences.

Adult cicadas species can measure over an inch in body length. Male cicadas are known for making one of the loudest buzzing sounds of all insect species.

The male abdomen in some species is hollow, and acts as a sound amplifier. Their buzz is so loud that some male cicada species can ‘turn-off’ their tympanum (bug ears)
to protect themselves from permanent hearing loss! Back east, even people can suffer hearing loss when millions of males, in close proximity, are simultaneously competing for the attention of the females. Each cicada species has it’s own unique buzz, or ‘song’ as it

is called by entomologists. The two adult cicadas shown were both caught on the same day in mid July, within the lower slopes of Keddie Ridge facing the town of Greenville in Plumas County. Numerous specimens of the pictured orange-marked Vandyke Cicada, Okanagana vandykei, an arboreal tree feeding species, were observed. The pictured Red-veined Cicada, species Okanagana rubrovenosa, is a host specific species feeding on roots of manzanita shrub species. The red coloration of the Red-veined Cicada may be a camouflage adaption related to the red bark of manzanita species.

So, the buzz about cicadas is they are loud buzzing bugs; some can live for many years, and billions emerge all together – back east!.