How Cicadas Work

Love Song -- for an Insect

After succumbing to the romantic ballads, the cicadas mate. Afterward, adult female cicadas lay eggs by piercing plant stems with their ovipositor. The ovipositor is an egg-laying spike located at the tip of the female's abdomen. The spike inserts the eggs into the slit created in the stem.

The eggs eventually hatch into small, wingless cicadas known as nymphs. The nymphs fall to the ground and dig below the surface. If they're periodical cicadas, they will stay for 13 or 17 years, slowly growing into adults. The nymphs live on the sap from plant roots while they grow. They shed their skin at intervals throughout their life span.

When the nymphs reach full size, they dig their way to the surface with specially adapted front legs that act as tiny shovels. They surface around nightfall in late spring or early summer. The nymphs then climb to higher ground and shed their skin for the last time. Now fully winged adult cicadas, they leave behind their old, empty, nymphal skin.