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Cicadas life cycle

After 2, 13 or 17 years below the ground, in May or early June the mature nymphs bore to the surface, and sometimes even construct mud "chimneys" up to 3 inches tall. They climb onto nearby vegetation or any vertical surface. They then molt into winged adults. Their shredded outer skins or "exoskeletons" are frequently found attached to tree trunks and twigs. Their emergence is often tightly synchronized, with most nymphs appearing within a few nights.

The periodical cicadas are all similar in appearance; 1 to 1.5 inches long including the wings. The eyes, legs and margins of the wings are orange. Periodical cicadas sing and fly in spring, whereas other species of cicadas usually sing and fly during the summer.

Male cicadas begin to sing with a shrill, loud buzzing noise to attract females. Females are silent. Male cicadas sing by vibrating membranes on the underside of the first abdominal segment. Male cicadas are also capable of making a loud squawk when disturbed. It is believed that such squawking may be effective in deterring predators.

It is expected that large numbers of periodical cicadas, brood X will swarm large parts of Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee in May 2004.

cicada life on a treeThe male's courtship songs attract females for mating. After mating, females use their saw-like ovipositors to split open the bark of hardwood trigs and insert eggs in two rows. They lay their eggs in twigs 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter. One to several dozen eggs can be laid in one branch, with up to 500 eggs being laid by each female in about 50 sites. Cicada eggs remain in the twigs for 6 to 10 weeks before hatching.

After the eggs hatch, the tiny ant-like first stage nymphs drop to the soil to borrow in 6 to 18 inches underground to feed for the next 2 or more years. (Periodical cicadas develop for a thirteen to seventeen years cycle). The nymphs feed on the roots of many kinds of trees.