Just a year and four days ago, I spent a very enjoyable evening with a cicada so I was happy to find another one along the millpond trail in Brighton. He was crossing the sidewalk heading for the largest tree in the area. While I held him, he kept moving because he knew it was time to shed his exoskeleton and he wanted to find an appropriate place to do it.
Although cicadas look menacing, they don’t bite or sting. When they are in their nymph phase, as shown here, they move slowly, but you’d be hard pressed to hold the same fellow once its wings are unfurled and hardened. They buzz and flap in a frenzy to gain their freedom. This cicada is in the genus Tibicen. It spends 2-3 years underground sucking sap from the roots of trees before it emerges in late summer.
After photographing him, I placed him about 6′ from the ground on the tallest nearby tree (top). Interestingly, 24 hours later, I found his shed exoskeleton (below) 4-5′ above where I placed him. Wish I had been patient so I could have watched him emerge from it. Click the photos to see larger versions of them to enjoy the details. Visit CicadaMania.com and Magicicada.org for more information and distribution maps.
On the sidewalk next to the Brighton City Hall, I saw something odd illuminated by a nearby lantern at 11:30 Thursday night. “Good God, what is THAT?!” was my first reaction. After I got down on my hands and knees, I was pleasantly surprised to find a cicada just emerging from its nymphal skin (above), a process called eclosing. According to the brood chart, Michigan won’t have a major cicada emergence until 2021 so this fellow is probably a Tibicen. Find out more about the these fascinating insects at CicadaMania.com. [Note: Dan Mozgai, creator of CicadaMania.com, confirmed it is a male Tibicen. Thanks, Dan!]
I nudged him and thought he was dead. Then I saw a slight movement so I left him alone and came back 30 minutes later to find he had fully emerged. His wings had expanded from tiny green and pink nubs, and it had crawled to the base of the nearest city hall post to finish its transformation. (right)
I tapped him on his nose to encourage him to climb on my finger so I could photographhim and spent the next hour watching his wings expand. Then I placed him on the nearest tree trunk and wished him well in finding a mate during its short life while buzzing in the treetops.
Here is its semi-transparent brown nymphal skin (below), called the exuvia. Note the slice along the back where the adult emerged. My fingertip gives you an idea of its size. I’m not sure what the two light-colored strands are at the head. They might be grass or part of the skin:
We became acquainted (below) while the wings were still soft and pliable. Soon, they will be rigid and he wouldn’t be content to perch on my fingertip. Every body part is shiny, clean, and beautiful at this moment in its life:
Below is my favorite photograph of this encounter because of the composition as well as the neon green at the base of the wings becoming clear at the tips with a milky, iridescence. Once it reaches full maturation in a few hours, I’m sure it will look like the one I photographed August 8th. All of the colors will darken so it doesn’t become lunch for a bird.
By the time I placed it on the large tree trunk an hour later, his wings were still growing to full length. Click any of the images to see larger versions for more detail.
Most of the time, they stay in the trees where they feed on tree sap and spend summer months rapidly contracting their timbal muscles to fill the air with loud buzzings. Cicada is Latin for “buzzer.” While they are harmless, if you catch one in your hands, their violent thrashing will encourage you to drop it. I did when I picked this one up to place him on a clean part of the sidewalk for his portrait. I like how their chunky bodies contrast with their clear wings. Last year, I photographed one covered in raindrops.