Backyard Buddies

Photo: David Lochlin


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It's not an Aussie summer without the deafening concert of thousands of cicadas. Around October, you can see the first empty shell of a newly hatched cicada on a tree trunk or your fence.

They will soon fill the air with their song before they disappear again for winter. But where have they been during the colder months?

At the end of summer, each female cuts small slits into plant stems and branches and places her eggs inside. From these eggs nymphs hatch, which drop to the ground and dig themselves into the soil.

They find a root, attach themselves and start sucking the sap. Some species remain in this state for a few months; others stay underground for years.

On the first hot days of late spring or early summer, especially after rain, the nymphs will make their way to the surface. They climb up a vertical object, often the tree on which they were born and that they have been feeding on, and shed their shell. It is now a winged insect with a wing span of up to 2 centimetres and a pair of drum-like organs called tymbals, which they use to sing their song.

Cicadas are a food source for so many animals, no wonder they breed in such massive numbers. They are prey for rodents, marsupials, reptiles, birds, fish, insects, and spiders. They can come to a particularly nasty end if they are spotted by a Cicada Killer Wasp. The adult female wasp will paralyse the cicada with her venomous sting and carry it to her nest and lay an egg under the cicada's leg. When the egg hatches, the larvae begin to eat the cicada alive.

Did you know?

Each species of cicada has its own distinct song to attract only the right partners to mate with. Some species can sing as loud as 120 decibels.

After spending up to seventeen years underground, the male cicada has just a few weeks to find a mate. His piercing call is designed to both attract a female and repel hungry birds.

Did you know?

Cicada movement and behaviour is being used as a yardstick to measure climate change. Some northern Australian species are turning up in Victoria, others are breeding later in the year, and in the United States, they are emerging from the ground years ahead of schedule.

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”’s all connected, your backyard to the big backyard and everything in between – we can all do our bit to help out nature.“

John - National Parks Volunteer, SA

Photo: OEH