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What are Cicadas? Unraveling the Mystery of Nature’s Loudest Insects



The arrival of cicadas is one of the most extraordinary natural phenomena to witness, and this year, a rare event is unfolding across the Midwest and Southeast United States. For the first time since 1803, two distinct broods of periodical cicadas – Brood XIX and Brood XIII – are emerging simultaneously, creating a stunning display that is both mesmerizing and deafening.

Cicadas, often referred to as the “insects with the loudest mating call,” are fascinating creatures that captivate the attention of scientists, nature enthusiasts, and the general public alike. These intriguing insects belong to the order Hemiptera, which includes a diverse array of bugs, and they are known for their unique life cycle that spans multiple years.

The Cicada Shell and its Significance

One of the most recognizable features of cicadas is their exoskeleton, or cicada shell. As the nymphs emerge from the ground, they climb up tree trunks or other vertical surfaces and undergo a remarkable transformation. The nymphs shed their hard, outer shell, revealing the adult cicada inside. This discarded exoskeleton, often referred to as the “cicada shell,” is a testament to the insect’s remarkable metamorphosis.

These abandoned shells serve as a visual reminder of the cicadas’ life cycle and can be found clinging to trees, fences, and even buildings in the areas where these insects are present. For many, the sight of these delicate, intricate shells is a captivating and awe-inspiring experience, providing a glimpse into the hidden world of these extraordinary creatures.

Cicadas in Texas: A Unique Perspective

While the current dual emergence of Brood XIX and Brood XIII is primarily focused on the Midwest and Southeast, Texas has its own unique relationship with these remarkable insects. In the Lone Star State, periodic cicadas are known to make appearances, though the exact timing and locations can vary.

In recent years, Texas has witnessed the emergence of several different broods, including Brood XIX and Brood X, which are known to overlap in certain regions. This has resulted in a fascinating tapestry of cicada activity across the state, with some areas experiencing the distinctive buzzing and chirping of these insects more frequently than others.

For Texans, the arrival of cicadas is often a mixed experience. While some relish the opportunity to observe these natural wonders up close, the sheer volume of their collective mating calls can be a source of consternation for others. Understanding the significance and ecological importance of cicadas can help to foster a greater appreciation for these unique creatures, even in regions where their presence is more pronounced.

The Deafening Roar of Cicadas

Perhaps the most renowned characteristic of cicadas is their incredible ability to produce sound. These insects are renowned for their incredibly loud mating calls, which can reach up to 100 decibels – a volume comparable to that of a jackhammer or a loud rock concert. The reason behind this astounding feat of nature is the cicadas’ specialized anatomy.

Cicadas possess a unique structure known as a “tymbal,” which is a membrane-like organ located on the insect’s abdomen. When the tymbal rapidly contracts and releases, it creates a series of clicking sounds that, when amplified by the cicada’s hollow body, result in the distinctive buzzing or chirping that is so characteristic of these insects.

The cacophony created by the collective mating calls of cicadas can be truly awe-inspiring, but also overwhelming for some. In areas where the insects emerge in large numbers, the sheer volume of their collective chorus can be heard from a considerable distance, creating an auditory spectacle that is both mesmerizing and disorienting.

The Ecological Importance of Cicadas

While the appearance and noise of cicadas may be disruptive to some, these insects play a crucial role in the broader ecosystem. Their emergence, which occurs in synchronous cycles, is a testament to the delicate balance of nature and the intricate relationships that exist within it.

During their time above ground, cicadas serve as an important food source for a variety of predators, including birds, mammals, and even some reptiles. The abundance of these insects provides a vital nutritional boost for the local wildlife, helping to sustain the intricate food web that underpins the health of the ecosystem.

Furthermore, the holes left behind by the cicadas as they emerge from the ground help to aerate the soil and improve the flow of water and nutrients to the roots of plants and trees. This natural “gardening” process can have a beneficial impact on the overall health and vitality of the local flora, contributing to the overall ecological balance.

Even the death of the cicadas, which typically occurs within a few weeks after their emergence, plays a vital role in the ecosystem. As the insects’ bodies decompose, they release valuable nutrients back into the soil, providing a vital source of sustenance for the plants and trees that they have helped to support throughout their life cycle.

In the face of these remarkable ecological contributions, the presence of cicadas should be viewed not as a nuisance, but as a testament to the intricate and delicate web of life that underpins the natural world. By embracing the arrival of these insects and understanding their significance, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity and wonder of the natural systems that we are a part of.


As the dual emergence of Brood XIX and Brood XIII unfolds across the Midwest and Southeast, the appearance of these extraordinary insects will captivate and intrigue observers from all walks of life. From the intricate cicada shells that dot the landscape to the deafening roar of their collective mating calls, these creatures offer a unique and awe-inspiring glimpse into the natural world.

By understanding the ecological importance of cicadas and their role in the broader ecosystem, we can learn to appreciate these remarkable insects for the vital contributions they make to the delicate balance of nature. Whether you’re a seasoned naturalist or a curious observer, the arrival of cicadas is an event worth experiencing and celebrating, as it serves as a powerful reminder of the interconnectedness of all living things.

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