Magicicada serves as the name of the genus of the 13 and 17-year cycle periodical cicadas endemic to eastern portions of North America.
The insects spend most of their lives underground where they feed on the xylem fluids from the roots of deciduous trees in the eastern United States. After either of the two time periods, the mature nymphs emerge at random locations. They also do so in synchronization with others and in incredible numbers.
After such an extended developmental phase, the adults stay active for only about 4-6 weeks. The cycle of life of the Magicicada is complete within two months of the original emergence. By that time the eggs have been laid and the adult cicadas vanish for another 13-17 years. How unique.
Magicicada Physical Description
The winged adult Magicicada which most are familiar with has red eyes and black dorsal thorax. Their wings appear translucent and have orange veins. The underside of their abdomen presents either black, orange, or striped with orange and black. Which pattern they display depends on the individual species of this insect.
The adults average about 0.9-1.3 in (2.4-3.3 cm) in length which makes them slightly smaller than the annual cicada species living in the same regions of the United States. The species displays sexual dimorphism in that mature females are slightly larger than males.
The males commonly form large congregations that sing in chorus to attract females. Different species have different characteristic calling songs.
This insect does not sting or bite. Their proboscis remains capable of penetrating human skin if they are handled which can be painful but is in no other way harmful. The Magicicada species are not venomous. There also is no evidence that they transmit diseases.
Their feeding poses little threat to mature vegetation. Mature plants rarely suffer lasting damage, although twig die-off can result from the prodigious quantities of eggs laid.
Magicicada Life Cycle
The nymphs of the Magicicada live underground at depths of 12 in (30 cm) or more. There they feed on the juices of various plant roots.
The nymphs also undergo 5 distinct developmental stages in their lives underground. The difference in the two different life cycles is the time it takes the second stage to mature. While underground, the developing nymphs move ever deeper below ground, to feed on larger roots.
The nymphs also typically emerge on a spring evening. In most years, this will be late April or early May in far southern states. In the far northern states, it usually happens in late May or early June.
Emerging nymphs climb to a suitable place on the nearby vegetation to complete their transformation into an adult. They will then molt one final time and then spend about six days in the leaves waiting for their exoskeleton to finish hardening.
The short adult life cycle of the Magicicada has one purpose: reproduction.
The nymphs also emerge in large numbers at about the same time, often numbering more than 1.5 million individuals per acre (0.4 hectares). Just take a moment to imagine that.
This massive emergence is a survival trait popular as predator satiation. For about the first week after emergence, the Magicicada are an easy meal for birds, squirrels, reptiles, cats, and other mammals of all sizes. In essence, their predators gorge themselves and are unable to eat anymore. Finally, those remaining perpetuate the species.