Friday 5: The Beauty of Cicadas

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten a Friday 5 up!  I’m feeling proud of myself. Let’s see if I remember how this goes…  :)

One of my coworkers at the Museum is really into cicadas. And I mean REALLY into cicadas!  He’s got a display in the Museum devoted to them and he talks about them all the time.  He can identify every species in our area by calls alone, which I love.  I’m always amazed at how much he knows and he’s got some great ideas that I hope he will someday publish because they really should be properly documented in the scientific literature.  I’ve learned more about cicadas sitting in his office chatting than I ever expected to! For example, I now know that Oklahoma is a very interesting place cicada-wise.  Who knew?

One of the best parts of visiting this particular coworker’s office, I think, is getting to see his absolutely amazing cicada collection.  There are boxes of cicadas piled floor to ceiling in some parts of his office, and there are probably thousands left to be properly curated in storage boxes and put away.  He’s got people sending him specimens from all over the country now, and there are always several dozen specimens out on his table where you can see them.  They are spectacularly beautiful, so I wanted to share a few photos of his cicada collection I snapped with my phone a few weeks ago while I waited for him to finish up a tour before a meeting.  If you don’t appreciate the beauty of cicadas after getting a close look at one, I don’t know what I can do to convince you that these are beautiful, amazing insects worthy of your admiration.

So this is what a lot of the visible parts of the collection look like:


Lots and lots and lots of pinned, perfectly mounted cicadas arranged on big sheets of styrofoam.  Lest you become horrified by the sheer number of cicadas in this collection, I should point out that I understand that many of these specimens were collected dead.  If you’ve ever seen a periodical cicada emergence, just think of the epic carnage that remains after the cicadas have reached the end of their adult lives.  Cicadas everywhere!  I know at least some of the specimens were captured live, but this is a pretty low-impact collection, given the number of specimens it contains.

Speaking of periodical cicadas, here are a pair of them:

periodical cicadas

These were from Brood II, one of the big periodical cicada emergences that made an appearance in the northern part of North Carolina this year.  I wasn’t ever anywhere I could see them, but my coworker made a few trips north just to see the cicadas.  Magicicada have creepy little red demon eyes, but look at those wings!  Oh, those wings.  They are spectacular.  They’re thick and strong, heavy for insect wings.  I love the very well-defined cells and the shapes.  Crazy beautiful wings, creepy red demon eyes or no!

Now one thing I appreciate about my coworkers collection is that he doesn’t necessarily try to conserve space and instead spreads the wings on many of his specimens:

cicada wing spreading

Every insect that he spreads is exquisitely pinned, so very perfect, and they show off the lovely wings and fascinating body shape very well.  I think it really adds to the overall aesthetic appeal of his collection.  There’s something about a perfectly arranged, expertly spread insect that is so beautiful, regardless of the type of insect.

These had already been spread and are now waiting for a proper home safe inside a bug box:

cicadas on a pinning board

I believe those are a type of Tibicen, one of the enormous dog day cicadas (and as many times as I’ve talked to my coworker about cicadas, I still suck at telling them apart).  I really wish I had made a recording of the Tibicen that lurked in the trees where I collected water bugs in Arizona in the fall.  It was one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard!  It was the auditory equivalent of a wave at a sports game, one cicada calling for a moment, which prompted the next one down the line to start calling, and so on down the line.   You’d hear the sound start way down toward the spring head, move down the creek, swell to an almost deafening crescendo, and then trail off as it moved downstream.  Just amazing!

And lastly, the butt shot:

cicada collection

Because if you’re going to end a blog post, you should do it with a bug butt if at all possible, especially if the whole post consists of your crazy ramblings about how beautiful cicadas are.  :)

Hope everyone is looking forward to the new year!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

25 thoughts on “Friday 5: The Beauty of Cicadas

  1. This summer was my first experience with a cicada emergence (is that the right term?) and it was so cool. The sounds while driving were so neat, like having your own sound track that swelled and faded dramatically, just like a horror movie. But I was most impressed with my Jack Russell ‘Squeek’s’ ability to find and eat them. I had to put her on a diet when it was over. The mutt puppy ‘Havoc’ didn’t eat quite as many but ‘Trouble’ the cat sure tried. I really enjoy your posts thanks for taking the time. All the best for the new year, cheech

  2. We have heaps of cicadas emerging here in our little corner of Australia too at the moment. They are fascinating looking creatures aren’t they? Luckily for us they haven’t emerged in such numbers to make the noise in the trees unbearable.

      • No, I am in Victoria, in the south east. :)
        Our cicadas are very similar to yours, although I saw one recently that was tiny (as small as a black ant) and bright red with black stripes over its butt. I had never seen one like that before!

        • Although now you reminded me about it and I’ve had a proper look at the photos I took (cos it’s so small I needed to zoom in to see it properly!) though the wings and butt are cicada-ish it has too pointy a nose to be a cicada…. Hmmmm…. Now I’ve got no idea what it is!

            • I’d love to! I hate finding someone new in the garden and not knowing who it is. My interwebs searching is usually good enough for me to be able to make a slightly educated guess but this time all I can see is a cross between a lacewing and a cicada, completely in the wrong size and colour!

              I will get off my butt, download my camera tomorrow, and send a picture. Thanks! :D

  3. I’ve always thought Cicadas are both mysterious and beautiful. Several years ago we were paddling along the heavily wooded shoreline of a reservoir in southeast Ohio in late July or August. The sound of the Cicadas was almost deafening. We haven’t been privileged to hear anything quite like that since.

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