Dog-Day Cicadas, Male and Female

2013 July 3

Sam found this cicada in the yard on August 1, 2012. It was a male that was still alive (but dying),

Looking at his underside, we can see his drinking stylet that he used to suck juices from plants. We can also see his white belly with a broad black band running down the middle, which is one of the ID features for the Dog-Day Cicada, Tibicen canicularis.

Then, just a few days later (August 4, 2012), Sam found another one that was already dead. It looked pretty much like the previous one, except that this one was a female. And how could we tell it was a female? Because she had an ovipositor.

What normally happens with cicadas, is the males are the ones that make all the noise, sitting in trees and bushes and screaming their heads off. These Dog-Day Cicadas typically like to hang out in the tops of fairly tall trees, so it is hard to actually catch them from the ground while they are singing. Meanwhile, the females home in on the screaming males, landing fairly close. A female will then make a “clack” noise with her wings that sounds fairly similar to someone snapping their fingers. The male notices this, and comes over to find her[1]. Then, after they mate, the female goes off and uses her ovipositor to inject her eggs under the bark of tree branches. This particular species seems to like to lay eggs in short-needled pines and spruces. Once the eggs hatch out, the newborn nymphs drop to the ground, burrow into the soil until they find a tree root, and then latch on and start sucking juices. They will then stay there for several years, getting bigger and bigger until one summer they dig back to the surface, split open their backs, and emerge as winged adults.

[1] In this video clip starting at around 2:30, you can see David Attenborough teasing a male cicada by snapping his fingers to imitate a female. It’s a different species of cicada, but I expect that it probably works to some degree on other species.

7 Responses
  1. July 4, 2013

    Why is it I get the feeling that at some point in his life, a female snapped her fingers to tease David Attenborough?

  2. July 5, 2013

    This was an interesting post.

    I went immediately to that David Attenborough video and was fascinated by the cicadas emerging like robbers from their underground hideout and rising up the mother tree to emerge like aliens out of their larval cases to their final forms.

    The film illuminating but could not explain the 17 year underground existence. I wonder what chemical signal impels them to emerge? The empty larval cases attached to the trees and below looked like fish scales on the body of the tree. The winged forms were very ugly. They were all dangling on the tree like shaking earrings on the ears of the leaves. The noise was quite annoying.

    The mating business was interesting especially the bit where the male kept running after David Attenborough. He seemed very desperate. But then again, after 17 years, there might be a limit to celibacy.

    I then went on to other Attenborough film clips. I’ve never encountered these before and they were neat.

    I have always been interested in galls and this video I found described different oak galls caused by wasps. The variety of galls is astonishing.

    Oak tree and wasp eggs – Life in the Undergrowth – BBC Attenborough

    I don’t suppose you could write something on wasp galls?

    Here is some information to get you going if you decide to do a gall wasp post:

    Oak Apple Gall Wasps are usually identified by their gall. This very large gall grows up to two inches wide, but is usually golf-ball sized. Apple galls have a thin, papery shell and are spongy inside. They are green at first, turning brown later.

    Oak Apple Galls are found anywhere there are oak trees.

    The link you provided about the Dog-Day Cicada says this:

    SONG: a loud, high-pitched whine (like a power saw cutting wood) lasting several seconds before fading at the end

    Is it true that the Dog-Day Cicada makes power tool noises?

    If so how is it possible to have a good night’s sleep with that racket going on in the background in the hottest part of the year?

  3. July 5, 2013

    Julie: Yes, the Dog-Day Cicada sounds very much like someone cutting wood (or maybe sheet metal) with a power saw, and is extremely loud. Luckily, they are only really actively yelling during the day, and stop at night. The other two cicada species we have around here are also pretty loud (the Canadian Cicada sounds like a hyperactive maraca player, and the Say’s Cicada sounds like an electrical power line shorting out), but they also shut up at night.

    And yes, I’ll almost certainly be posting about the oak apple galls, as soon as I find some on our oak trees.

  4. July 6, 2013

    The nose of that beetle is exactly like the grill of some car. I just can’t place it.

  5. July 6, 2013

    KT: I’d thought that, too. It looks like the grille Packard was using in the 1940s.

  6. July 8, 2013

    Close, but the grill is going the wrong way. I think it’s closer to a Citroen 2CV from the 50s. Just where the bug managed to pick up such a hottie is a mystery to me.

  7. January 14, 2014

    Ah, here’s an even closer match for the grille, that I just stumbled across:

    a 1938 Hudson

    The other Hudson models between 1936 and 1942 look like they have similar “cicada-nose” grilles.

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