Dedicated to the Study of the Cicadas of Massachusetts and New England


Frequently Asked Questions

Massachusetts Cicadas receives lots of great questions about cicadas, cicada killers and insects in general. Below are a compilation of these questions broken down into three different categories. Use the quick jump links below or scroll to the category that interests you. If you have a question that you don't see and you would like it answered use the contact form to ask your question.

Cicada FAQS

What is a Cicada?

An Arthropod of the family Cicadidae which contain over 1500 species of cicadas. They are of the order Hemiptera, sub-order Homoptera.

A cicada is a large "fly-like" insect with large membranous wings. The males make loud shrill sounds in tree-tops during the summer and early fall months. These sounds are used to attract female cicadas for mating. These sounds can sometimes exceed 100 decibels. Other common names for Cicadas are "Harvest Fly", "Locust" or "Heat Bug".

What is a Tibicen?

A Tibicen is a genus of Cicada from the family of Cicadidae sometimes abbreviated as "T." and contain many species. Examples of Tibicen species are T.canicularis, T.chloromera and T.auletes. Approximately 50 species of Tibicen Cicadas are found in the United States. Tibicen Cicadas are often referred to as Dog Day Cicadas.

How many types of Cicadas are there?

There are approximately 1500 Cicada species found worldwide with approximately 100 to 150 species being found in the United States. The most recent species was discovered in Malaysia in 2002. This new species of Cicada is known as Orientopsaltria endauensis. However, new species and sub-species are discovered quite often.

Are Cicadas really locusts?

NO! Cicadas are not locusts. Locusts are actually winged grasshoppers that destroy crops and other vegitation and some times migrate in huge swarms.

Cicadas are often mis-identified as locusts. This harkens back to early settler days when America was being colonized. The first emergence of Periodical Cicadas was noted by early European settlers who compared them to the plagues of locusts suffered upon Egypt during biblical times. Unfortunately, the methaphor stuck and Cicadas have been mis-identified as locusts since then.

Are Cicadas harmful?

Annual Cicadas in general are not harmful. Due to their relatively small numbers that are spread over a wide area they do no noticeable damage to flora. While they do have a rigid mouth part known as a beak, it is in the shape of a stylus and is used for withdrawing Xylem from trees or other plants. The fluids obtained are believed to be used to help the process of evaporative cooling on hot summer days. The amount of fluid obtained from a tree by a Cicada has no noticeable affects on trees or other plants. Annual Cicadas are actually beneficial as they are often preyed upon by birds, spiders, snakes and other fauna.

With regards to Periodical Cicadas it has been speculated that due to their massive concentrations there may be "stresses" put on their host plants. One way is from oviposition damaging small twigs on a plant or tree resulting in altered branch architecture, reduced growth and fruit crop loss.

Another may be caused by Periodical Cicada nymphs in their juvenile stage when feeding on Xylem, resulting in reduced wood growth and flowering of shrubs and trees.

Will Cicadas harm me?

If you are deathly afraid of insects then yeah, Cicadas can harm you...psychologically. Physically however Cicadas cannot harm you. They have no stingers to sting or mandibles to bite. They do have what is known as a beak which is a stylus-type mouth which they use to penetrate branches in order to feed on Xylem. Sometimes if you handle a Cicada, they may mistake you as a branch and try to feed on you but there is very little discomfort if you allow them to actually do this. Personally, I don't let them do this because it is unclear if any pathogens that they may be carrying may accidentally get transferred to you.

What are Periodical Cicadas?

Periodical Cicadas are those Cicadas of the genus Magicicada. Magicicada is sometimes abbreviated as "M." and contain 7 species. They have the longest juvenile period (nymph stage) and are considered the longest-lived of all insects when their juvenile period is factored into the equation. Three species emerge en-mass every 17 years and 3 species emerge en-mass every 13 years.

The three 17 year species of Magicicada are M. septendecim, M. septendecula and M. cassini. The three 13 year species of Magicicada are M. tredecim, M. tredecula and M. tredecassini. There has recently been reported a fourth 13 year species known as Magicicada neotredecim.

Periodical Cicadas appear in different regions of the United States and are broken down by year of appearances known as Broods. Today there are 15 different broods of Magicicadas. Twelve being 17 year Periodical Cicadas and three being 13 year with each Brood assigned a Roman numeral.

The reason for these mass emergences is due to Periodical Cicadas being developmentally synchronized. That is all adult Magicicadas of the same brood in any given region will emerge at roughly the same time every 17 or 13 years. In fact since Periodical Cicadas are so developmentally synchronized, if all the Magicicadas of any given Brood were to be wiped out in the year of their emergence before the females could deposit their eggs after mating, then that particular brood would become extinct. This happened with Brood XI which was from the Connecticut River valley region of the United States and was last seen in 1954.

Periodical Cicadas are smaller than Annual Cicadas and are mostly black with clear membranous wings, orange wing veins and fiery red eyes. Some hybrid Magicicadas have been recorded as having silver, blue or grey eyes and are considered quite rare.

What are Annual Cicadas?

Annual Cicadas are those Cicadas that are heard calling in the tree-tops every summer and into fall and contain the genus Tibicen, Diceroprocta, Neocicada and Okanagana (though Okanagana are considered "proto-periodical" than annual with light emergences every year and heavier emerences every 4 years) in the United States.

Lifecycle development differentiates Annual Cicadas from Periodical Cicadas where Annual Cicadas take two or more years to develop. United States Annual Cicadas usually contain the colors black, brown, green and gold with most having white waxy underbellies. Most Annual Cicadas are larger than Periodical Cicadas. Annual Cicada broods encompass a wide region of the United states. Annual Cicada broods are not developmentally synchronized thus, they overlap resulting in hearing the same species of Cicadas every summer.

What is a Nymph

A nymph is the juvenile stage a Cicada goes through before it's final molt into an adult Cicada. When Cicadas hatch from egg they are known as a first instar nymph. During this stage, Cicada nymphs burrow underground and attach themselves to a tree root and feed on xylem for 2 or more years depending on species. While underground, the Cicada nymph molts between 4 and 5 times, each time becoming a progressively bigger nymph. Each molt is considered an instar stage ie; first instar nymph, second instar nymph, third instar nymph etc. After reaching it's 4th or 5th instar nymph stage, depending on time of year and soil temperature, the nymph will dig itself out of the ground and climb the nearest tree, usually it's host plant and molt into the adult Cicada ready to mate.

Cicada Killer Wasp FAQS

What is a Cicada Killer?

A cicada killer is a type of ground-burrowing wasp from the family of insects known as Crabronidae that hunt cicadas. U.S. cicada killer wasps are classified under the genus of wasps known as Sphecius and four species are found in the United States.

The four species of cicada killers are:

  1. Sphecius speciousus - The Eastern Cicada Killer
  2. Sphecius grandis - The Western Cicada Killer
  3. Sphecius convalis - The Pacific Cicada Killer
  4. Sphecius hogardii - The Caribbean Cicada Killer

Do Cicada Killer Wasps Eat Cicadas?

You would think that as the name would imply but the answer is no. Only the female cicada killer wasp actually hunts for cicadas. The female doesn't actually kill the cicada but only stings the cicada to paralyze it. The cicada - while immobile - is still very much alive.

What does the Cicada Killer Female do with the Captured Cicada?

After the female stings and paralyzes a cicada, it will carry the live cicada back to its burrow. It will then lay an egg on the paralyzed cicada. When the larva hatches from the egg, it will eat the cicada alive. Adult female cicada killer wasp will construct many underground chambers in its burrow catching and depositing paralyzed cicadas in each chamber and then it will seal each chamber after depositing one egg.

Why do Cicada Killer Wasps Return to the Same Place Year After Year?

Cicada killer wasps only live for one season. The male cicada killer wasps mate with the females then die. After the females lay their eggs they soon die. While it seems that they may come back year after year it is actually the progeny of the female cicada killer wasps from the previous season that deposited their eggs underground. After the larvae eat the cicadas. They pupate and over-winter in their underground chambers. During early the following summer they emerge from the ground the as full adults. Its these offspring that inhabit the same area.

Are Cicada Killer Wasps Aggressive?

Cicada killers wasps are big and because of this, they seem scarey to most people. The males will stake out little territories and chase away all other males along with other insects. When it comes to humans, cicada killer wasps are quite docile and usually don't even acknowledge our presence.

Do Cicada Killer Wasps Sting?

Male cicada killer wasps do not sting. Through the evolutionary process, the males have lost the ability. They do have what is known as a "pseudo-stinger" which is ineffective. While the males still carry the "defensive instinct" to sting, their pseudo-stinger cannot even penetrate the skin. Through the continued process of evolution, male cicada killer wasps may loose their pseudo-stinger entirely. You can actually pick up male cicada killer wasps and handle them.

Female cicada killer wasps do have a stinger but due to their docile nature, they are reluctant to use them on humans. For years I have been studying these wasps and have not been stung at all. Even after stealing away paralyzed cicadas from them.

Further reading on cicada killer wasps and their aggressiveness or lack thereof can be found at this link.

Why did Cicada Killer Wasps Choose to Inhabit My Yard?

Certain conditions have to be met in order to answer this question:

  1. Availability of cicadas - There must be a readily available population of cicadas nearby in order for an area to be viable to cicada killer wasps.
  2. Sunny wide-open areas - Cicada killer wasps prefer areas where the majority of the day the sun is shining. Whether this helps in the maturation process of the young or to help in the regulation of body temperature of the adults.
  3. Sandy soil - It is easier for female cicada killer wasps to dig their burrows in soft-sandy soil. This soil consistancy is more prevalent in new lawns and in new brick and stone walkways.

How do I get Rid of Them?

First off, its important to not believe the hype. Don't go rushing off to a pest control company seeking help and assistance. They will be happy to feed your fear and take your money.

People complain that cicada killer wasps are destroying their yard but the fact is, even though they are present, you can still do your normal yard work, things like planting shrubs and mowing your lawn is quite common. This can be done without fear of repercussions. In addition, the cicada killer wasp season is a very short one. Once they are gone, yards and lawns can usually recover quite nicely.

So save your money. Cicada killer wasps are quite interesting to watch and study.

Why is a Site About Cicadas Interested in Cicada Killers?

Apart from cicada killer wasps being a very interesting insect to watch and study, this site is also interested in anything cicada related. More often than not, a lot of time is spent at cicada killer leks in order to obtain paralyzed cicadas from cicada killer females.

Catching cicadas can be very difficult and time consuming. Cicada killer wasps are used in order to document varieties of species and population densities of cicadas found in the area of the cicada killer lek. Cicadas are often taken from cicada killer wasps as voucher specimens.

Do the Cicadas Ever Recover from the Cicada Killer's Sting?

Once the cicada is stung by the cicada killer wasp, even if it is taken from the cicada killer, it will never recover from its paralysis. The cicada probably starves to death. However, when cicadas are taken from cicada killers for study, they are put into a freezer for 24 hours. Like the oncoming of winter, placing paralyzed cicadas in a freezer soon kills them because cicadas do not do well in the cold.

General Insect FAQ

What is an Arthropod?

An Arthropod is a group classification assigned to organisms in the animal kingdom under Phylum Arthropoda. Arthropods have segmented bodies and hollow jointed legs and are made up of spiders, insects and crustaceans. Arthropods are also invertebrates ie; they have no backbone or spinal column.

What is a Genus?

A Genus is the hierarchal point in the scientific system for grouping related organisms together. It is the point above a species but below family. For example, when speaking about Cicadas, Tibicen canicularis, Tibicen lyricen, Tibicen linnei and Tibicen chloromera, the word Tibicen is the genus and canicularis, lyricen, linnei and chloromera are the species.

What is Hemiptera?

Hemiptera is the word used to describe an order in the classification of insects in the animal kingdom. This order usually contains the insects that have mouth parts designed for the piercing or sucking of plant juices. Insects of the order Hemiptera are also known as "true bugs".

What is Homoptera?

Homoptera is a sub-order of the order of insects known as Hemiptera. Some entomologists believe however that insects of the sub-order Homoptera should be in it's own distinct order. Insects of the sub-order Homoptera usually have 4 wings (2 forewings and 2 hind wings) that are membranous and are held against the body in roof-like fashion.

For example there are seven main classifications used to group organisms into a hierarchy based on relationships both physical and natural. The hierarchy is as follows:


Tibicen caniculars would be classified as follows:


What is an Ovipositor?

An ovipositor is the specialized structure in female insects used to lay eggs. In Cicadas it is designed to pierce small branches of trees and bushes and is housed in the abdomen when not in use.

What is an Instar?

An instar refers to a stage between two or more molts. Cicadas go through 4 or 5 instar stages with the adult Cicada being the final instar.

What is Xylem?

Xylem are tubular vessels in trees that are used to transport water and other nutrients from the roots, up the trunk to the branches and into the leaves. Cicadas often tap into Xylem to extract these nutrients when feeding.

What are Exuvia?

Exuvia is the plural of Exuvium and are cast off skins that are left behind during a molt process. Specifically during a Cicada's 5th instar stage, it is the brown husk that is usually left behind on trees and bushes after a cicada molts.

Latest Sightings

Submit Report

Did you spot an annual cicada or a cicada killer wasp? If you did and you have a photo and want to report it, please click the link below.

Brood I Information

The Brood I periodical cicada emergence happened in 2012 in Virginia, W. Virginia and Tennessee. Below are some of the highlights.

Brood XIX Information

The Brood XIX periodical cicada emergence has come and gone. Below is some information that you may find helpful.