Did You Know: Arizona Is Home To Dozens Of Cicadas Species

August 02, 2013

Cicadas were all over the news this summer when people on the East Coast were simultaneously horrified and delighted by a flood of insects emerging from the ground. Those bugs had been hiding for 17 years just waiting for a chance to mate, but Did You Know Arizona is home to a completely different kind of cicada?

cicadas Cicadas up close at the Arizona State University Hasbrouck Insect Collection. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)

Across the globe, 2,500 known species of cicada live on every continent except in Antarctica. Did you know in the U.S., Arizona has one of the most diverse cicada populations?

“Arizona with about 50 different and to my estimate all natively and naturally occurring cicadas,” said Nico Franz.  

Franz is the insect curator of the 100-year-old Arizona State University Hasbrouck Insect Collection. The school has more than a 1,000 drawers filled with all types of native insects, including 125 species of cicadas from the southwest U.S. and Northern Mexico.

Franz pulls out each tray of cicadas to view the collection up close.

"Look at these aren’t they beautiful? They’re gorgeous," said the entomologist admiring the tray.  

franz Dr. Nico Franz takes a walk outside to observe the cicada sounds. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)

Franz takes a walk outside the Life Sciences building. He explains the cicada sounds we are hearing are adult males competing for female attention.

“Males can reproductively compete in the sense that they can hear each other, block each other, cancel each other out,” he said. “They will sort of market, some what of a territorium in their particular branch and area that they are.”

The male cicada has two membranes on each side of its abdomen called tymbalds. When the tymbalds contract, they make clicking sounds. Each species has its distinct sound.

Various cicadas share the same habitat, so this helps the male find a female of its own kind. The female responds by flickering her wings. After the two unite, the male cicada creates a different courtship call.

Some cicadas make a shrill so loud it can be deafening to human ears. Others are low and harmless, but still make pets and other animals howl. Cicadas also use the sound to scares off birds.  

Franz said the Tibicen, Diceroprocta, and Okanaga are the three most common classes of cicadas in Arizona.

“You can pick them up and they will not do anything. The beak they have is not a beak that will attack or penetrate human skin or anything.”

cicadas Cicadas in a case in the collection at ASU. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)

Now here’s the best part. Cicadas feed off  the watery sap of trees and plants and they actually, well, pee. That’s probably what you feel when you walk under a tree and sense a little drizzle, or what some call cicada rain.