Cicada shell

Seeing this cicada shell brings back fond childhood memories.

A big part of my childhood was spent outside playing, running, riding my bike, building forts, catching lightning bugs and toads and as I reminisced last week, climbing trees.

I was always fascinated when I came upon the hollow shells of cicadas. I’d collect them, hang them off my clothes, and even scare my sisters with them. Yeah, I was a “tomboy” and just a little annoying to my two older sisters. I also was intrigued by the sounds male cicadas made. For me, it was the sound of summer.

I thought that these insects were locusts, but eventually learned the differences between the two. Locusts are a type of grasshopper, and we know these insects can and will chew and defoliate plants and crops. Locusts and grasshoppers cause a great deal of damage and have a history of swarming and causing plagues throughout history.

Cicadas are very interesting, having the longest life cycle of any insect. They live from two to 17 years, depending on the species, of which there are 3,000. Periodical cicadas were in the news a great deal in 2013, when a large group of 17-year cicadas in the Northeast, which laid eggs in 1996, re-emerged. Another brood of them to reappear in 2021, again only in the northeastern states.

Annual, or “dog day” cicadas, are the type that I played with spring to summer. Their eggs are placed in the split bark of small twigs, so there will usually not be much damage done to trees unless a large number of them lay eggs in a small area. Smaller limbs may show some scarring while large trees probably will not.

Once the eggs hatch, the nymphs will move down and go underground to suck out small amounts of sap from tree roots until they emerge. Then they will attach to trees, limbs, or anything handy and emerge from their hard exoskeletons, dry their wings, and fly off to mate and begin the process all over again.

Darla Horner Menking is a Texas Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at

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