Why do cicadas explode? 10 fun facts about the species

National News

(WTAJ) — The current brood of cicadas, Brood X, are here, back from underground, and millions are taking over wherever they want.

There are annual cicadas, which we can see every year, and there are periodical cicadas, which live underground for 13 or 17 years and mass emerge in broods. Brood X is part of the latter.

While cicadas are harmless and can’t bite or sting, check out these 10 facts you might not know about cicadas. Some might surprise you.

Cicadas live on all continents except Antarctica
Cicadidae can be found on every continent except Antarctica. They thrive in warm environments like the tropics, which makes paces like Australia, Latin America and the Western Pacific hotspots for cicada.

Cicadas can’t eat, getting nutrients from tree roots
Cicadas can’t eat or even bite, because they lack jaws. However, they will use a straw-like appendage to suck fluids from trees and their roots. Without those fluids and nutrients, the 13 and 17-year broods would surely not survive underground.

They are loud, rivaling construction equipment and motorcycles.
If you’ve been around a swarm of cicadas, you know they’re loud. But how loud? Well, the average cicada can produce mating calls that range between 80 and 100 decibels(dB). This rivals an excavator at 80dB, church bells at around 70dB, and even a classic motorcycle at about 88dB.

Cicada rain or “honeydew”
Speaking of fluids, they drink a lot of them and the excess fluid will come out in their pee. Some people experience what might seem like spit, but it’s just “cicada rain” that many have dubbed “honeydew”

Their circadian rhythms are still mysterious
Cicadas are thought to have an internal clock, calibrated by environmental cues – such as changes to the flow of fluids in the tree roots. It’s believed this is how cicadas can keep track of the years that pass until they are ready to emerge and mate.

Some cicadas could explode with fungus
Several species of the parasitic fungi, Ophiocordyceps, specialize in invading the bodies of cicadas. In these cases, the fungi infect cicadas while they’re underground. It will cause them to dig their way back up above ground before killing them and exploding mushrooms out of the corpses.

Cicadas have an enemy that will eat them alive
The Cicada Killer is a wasp that can grow up to two inches long. After mating, females take to the air to find and hunt cicadas. When they grapple in mid-air, the wasp sticks a stinger through the cicada’s hard exoskeleton to inject a venom that paralyzes the victim. From there, the wasp takes the cicada back to its burrow and lays an egg on the cicada then seals it shut in a chamber. After two or three days, the egg hatches and begins to eat the cicada alive for a week or two.

Animals? No, humans eat them too
Speaking of eating, their natural predators aren’t the only creatures in the world that eat cicadas. Humans do it more than you may think. What they taste like varies from person to person when asked, but because cicadas survive on the roots of trees, they have more of a green, earthy flavor that many have compared to asparagus. One chef in Leesburg, Virginia has added Cicada Tacos to his menu while they’re “in season”. Many say they also tase like shrimp.

Cicadas’ wings are water and bacteria proof
According to research published in 2013, the cicada’s wings kill bacteria on contact with a layer of incredibly tiny spikes and a chemical coating. The special defense doesn’t work on all bacteria, just those whose cell walls are soft enough to slump between the spikes.

The same way cicadas keep their wings free of bacteria also keeps them dry. These super-small structures are hard to replicate but last year a team of researchers managed to make copies of the cicada wing’s complex surface!

Cicadas may use strange life cycle to avoid predators
Scientists still aren’t sure exactly why two certain species of cicadas only come to the surface and mate once every 13 o 17 years. They speculate though, that the life cycle being a prime number, may have evolved over millions of years to avoid ever synching up with potential booming populations of predators, which tend to rise and fall on two to ten-year cycles, wrote Patrick Di Justo for the New Yorker in 2013.

BONUS FACT:

Cicadas could get “sex crazy” and lose their genitals and abdomen
The dormant Massospora cicadina fungus resurfaces alongside periodical cicadas. The fungus only infects the males. It causes the bug’s abdomen and genitalia to fall off, leaving a mass of fungal matter. This also makes them “sexy crazy” but it’s not to mate. Instead, the male will start to imitate the sounds a female makes in order to attract other males. From there, the sole purpose is to spread the fungus to more males in the brood. Scientists believe roughly 5% of cicadas go through this

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