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What Do Cicadas Eat?

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If you’ve been calling them locusts, you may want to look at them again.

Cicadas are a family of insects that belong to the Hemiptera order. You may know them from their clicking and buzzing sounds.

You may also know them as a family of insects that helps you with soil aeration and tree pruning. But do you know what they eat?

What do cicadas eat? Cicadas are herbivorous insects. They feed mainly on plant matter.

cicadas eating leaf

Insects belonging to the Hemiptera order have mouths adapted for piercing and sucking. True to this characteristic, cicadas suck their food.

They commonly feed on juices from tree roots, leaves, branches, and other juicy plant parts.

Cicadas have a unique reproductive process and life cycle. This peculiarity makes them feed on different types of food at various points in their lives.

In this piece, we will explore what cicadas eat under different conditions.

What Do They Eat Underground?

It may be surprising to ask what cicadas eat underground. Especially if you are not aware of their life cycle.

Life Cycle of Cicadas

Cicadas undergo incomplete metamorphosis. Adults mate, then the female lays her eggs.

After about 6-10 weeks, the nymphs hatch out of the eggs. They migrate underground and live there until they become adults.

Now, it gets more interesting. Cicadas can be either annual or periodical. The annual cicadas appear every year around summer. Hence, the name.

brown cicadas on a leaf

The periodical cicadas, on the other hand, appear every 13 to 17 years. In essence, the frequency of these two types of cicadas differ.

But besides that, the time it takes for their nymphs to become adults also is also different.

The nymphs of annual cicadas can take 2 to 5 years before they become adults. On the other hand, the periodical cicada nymphs can take 13 to 17 years.

In other words, cicadas can live for either 2-5 years or 13-17 years underground. So it’s no surprise that we want to explore what they eat underground.

What Cicadas Eat Underground

When cicadas are underground, they mainly feed on the sap from plant roots. Their straw-like mouthpiece enables them to suck the juices from the roots.

What Do They Eat Above Ground?

After molting through 5 instars, the nymphs rise from the ground. Once above ground, they shed their nymph exoskeleton.

Without their exoskeleton, the wings of the nymphs become inflated with hemolymph, and their skin hardens. At this point, they have become adults.

Above ground and as adults, cicadas feed on juices from woody shrubs and young tree twigs. Some of their preferred tree species are oaks, willows, and maples.

cicada eating leaf..

Compared to the nymphs, adult cicadas do not eat a lot. The nymph’s voracious appetite is a consequence of its ongoing growth.

Adult cicadas live for 4 to 6 weeks, and they spend most of this period mating.

Unlike the nymphs, adult cicadas are not growing, so they do not eat much. In fact, some studies claim they do not eat at all.

What Do They Eat in Captivity? Can You Keep Them as a Pet?

The next question is what do cicadas eat in captivity. But before we answer that, let’s confirm if one can keep them as pets.

Can You Keep Cicadas as Pets?

Yes, you can keep cicadas as pets. You may choose to raise them from eggs to adults. You could also acquire them as adults.

Between both options, keeping the adults as pets is easier. Raising cicadas from eggs to adults takes a lot of patience and dedication, especially if you choose the perennial cicada.

young cicada next to Shed on a leaf

For one, most of the cicadas will die while you are raising them. Also, you have to get the right plants and soil preferred by the species of cicada in your care.

Caring for the eggs and hatching them requires that you get a lot of things right. Plus, when they finally hatch, they will spend most of their time in the soil.

So, let’s talk about keeping adult cicadas as pets.

As you may remember, adult cicadas have a short lifespan. So you can only keep them for short periods of time.

While keeping cicadas, one of the most important things to provide for them is a source of moisture.

Besides that, you should ensure they are well-ventilated and are kept in the shade. You may also have to provide twigs for your cicada to lay eggs in.

This brings us to what you should feed them in captivity.

What Do Cicadas Eat in Captivity?

The easiest way to feed cicadas in captivity is to provide a host plant for them. In choosing the host plant, ensure your choice is one that can survive indoors.

black and dark brown cicada on a leaf

One choice you can try out is the branch of an oak tree. Get a small twig of an oak tree, place it in a bottle filled with water, and then place it in the cicada’s container.

Ensure you block the mouth of the bottle, so the insect does not end up inside it.

Besides using the twig of an oak tree, you can also use twigs from maples and willows. No matter the type of twig you choose, you have to replace it regularly for the cicada to survive.

In fact, if you can replace the twig with a fresh one every day, do it.

Summary

Cicadas are herbivorous Hemiptera insects. Their mouths are adapted for piercing plant tissues and extracting the juices. They typically feed on the juice or sap from plants.

The nymphs, which live underground, feed on root sap, while the adults feed on the twigs and stems of trees and woody shrubs.

Resources

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Locust vs Cicada – 7 Differences
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