What Is the Cicada Life Cycle?


Quick Answer

Hundreds of cicada species inhabit the world, and each has a slightly different lifestyle. Most cicadas fall into one of two primary groups: those that have an annual lifecycle and those that spend extended periods of time underground before undergoing metamorphosis. In both groups, the bulk of the cicada’s life is spent underground as nymphs.

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Full Answer

After adult cicadas mate, the females cut openings in a piece of bark or a twig. Some species deposit hundreds of eggs during each breeding season. When the eggs hatch, the young fall or crawl to the ground where they dig into the soil. The nymphs go through a series of molts that take between several months and several years to complete. Once they have reached maturity, they emerge from the soil. The nymphs then climb up onto the bark of a nearby tree. Here they molt one last time, emerging with fully formed wings.

Some cicadas spend up to 17 years underground before metamorphosis. This is likely an adaptation that helps them avoid predators, like wasps, that have much shorter lifespans. While squirrels and birds eat cicadas, one species of wasp, called “cicada killers,” preferentially seeks out the large insects. Once captured, the wasps deposit eggs inside the cicada’s body.

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