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Education

Celebrating Cicadas

A Magical Year

The alarm clock is ready to ring for the periodical cicadas of Lake County. The previous mass emergence of these impressive bugs in 2007 set the alarm for 2024. During spring and summer 17 years ago, millions of cicadas tunneled out of the soil, crawled up trees, sang, mated and completed their life cycle. This will be a magical year for their offspring.

17 Years, 64 Degrees, 100 Decibels

Want to learn even more about the periodical cicada emergence? Read the spring 2024 issue of our award-winning Horizons quarterly magazine.


Experience the Magic

Over several weeks, the cicadas will debut in such numbers they’ll be impossible to ignore. Rather, they should be celebrated. Join us at education programs and events celebrating cicadas, including CicadaFest on Sunday, June 9 from 12–4 pm at Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods.

Plan your visit to the Dunn Museum in Libertyville to experience the special exhibition Celebrating Cicadas, open April 27–August 4.

Plan Your Visit Special Exhibition Related Events

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Cicada Life Cycle

Illustrations of cicada eggs on a tree branch.

The life cycle begins when a female cicada lays eggs inside small cuts near the tips of tree branches. Look for rice-shaped eggs.

Image of cicada nymphs falling from a tree branch shortly after hatching

Shortly after hatching, nymphs depart the treetops and drop to the ground. The race is on to burrow into the soil away from predators.

Nymphs sipping sap from tree roots underground for 17 years before emerging

Nymphs sip sap from tree roots underground for 17 years before emerging to complete their life cycle. If a root runs dry, a nymph will leave it and dig to find a fresh root.

Nymphs creating short chimneys as they surface from the ground

Nymphs sometimes create short chimneys as they surface. Their emergence holes provide natural aeration to the soil.

Nymphs completing a final molt

After emerging from the ground, the nymphs climb up a tree and shed their exoskeleton in a final molt. Their bodies are soft for a few hours, leaving them vulnerable to predators.

A fully developed adult rests on a bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) branch

A fully developed adult rests on a bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) branch. It will crawl, fly, mate and lay eggs for about a month until it dies, falls to the ground and decomposes over time.


Onwards and Upwards

Periodical cicadas need to complete a final molt to enter adulthood. After emerging from the ground, they clamber up trees and other vertical surfaces. As if divers extracting themselves from wetsuits, they split open their exoskeletons once more and “pull themselves out, eventually hanging almost totally upside-down.”

In this teneral, or soft, phase, their squishy bodies are opaque white and yellow. Over about 90 minutes, their bodies harden and darken.

Footage © Dr. Gene Kritsky, Mount St. Joseph University


The Next Generation

Female cicadas use their ovipositor, or egg tube, to make shallow, V-shaped grooves along the tips of tree branches. They lay about 20 eggs into each groove, and 400–600 eggs total. Mature trees in full sunshine surrounded by low vegetation are ideal.

Footage © Dr. Gene Kritsky, Mount St. Joseph University


Listen to a Buzzy Podcast Episode

Want to hear more about cicadas during your commute or workout? In a special-edition episode of our award-winning Words of the Woods podcast, host Brett Pető discusses the natural history, life cycle and buzzy sounds of periodical cicadas. Listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you prefer.


Mapping Magicicada

Forest preserves, parks, yards, neighborhoods and even cemeteries will be cicada hotspots. This time-lapse map sources data from public observations, Cicada Safari and iNaturalist. Help track the emergence by reporting your observations.

Report Observation


Synchronized Singing

During daytime, chorusing centers of male cicadas sing using abdominal organs called tymbals. Tymbals expand and contract like bendy straws, producing clicks that swell into songs. The male’s abdomen amplifies his calls to 90–100 decibels, as loud as a motorcycle.

Learning each species’ distinctive song is the best identification method.

Linnaeus’
17-year Cicada

Produces a droning call that sounds like someone saying, “Pharoah,” with the first syllable extended: “Phaaaaaaaaaroah.” Some observers say it sounds more like, “wheeeeee-ooo.”

Cassin’s
Periodical Cicada

Makes “a quick burst of sound, followed by some rapid clicks,” according to CicadaMania.com.

Decula
Periodical Cicada

Produces a call with a tick, tick, tick rhythm that ends in less buzzy S-sounds, called lisps.


To advance to the next track, click on the double arrows to the right of the play button.
Audio © SongsofInsects.com


Artistry and Entomology

To help celebrate the emergence, we commissioned Samantha Gallagher, a Lake County-based artist, to create 11 cicada illustrations. Watch her creative process for two of them here. Design your own masterpieces by downloading our cicada coloring pages below.

Coloring Pages

Footage © Samantha Gallagher

Cicada Anatomy

Illustration of Cicada anatomy

Illustration of 3 species of cicadas undersides