What Do Cicadas Eat? A Must Read Information

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What Do Cicadas Eat? A Must Read Information

Cicadas are fascinating insects known for their distinctive calls and periodic mass emergences. While they spend most of their lives underground, their dietary habits are quite specialized and vary between their nymph and adult stages. Understanding what cicadas eat can help demystify these intriguing creatures and highlight their role in the ecosystem.

Cicada Diet: Nymphs and Adults

Nymph Stage

Cicada nymphs, which live underground for most of their lives, have a simple but specialized diet. They feed primarily on xylem fluids from the roots of plants. Using their straw-like mouthparts, known as a rostrum, they pierce the roots and suck out the nutrient-rich sap. This sap provides the necessary nutrients for the nymphs to grow and develop over their long developmental period, which can last from two to 17 years, depending on the species.

Adult Stage

Adult cicadas have a very different approach to feeding. Unlike the nymphs, adults do not actively feed or eat very little. Their primary focus is on reproduction. However, they may occasionally sip small amounts of plant sap or water. This minimal feeding behavior supports them during their brief adult life, which typically lasts between two to six weeks.

What Plants Do Cicadas Prefer?

Cicadas are not very picky eaters when it comes to plant choice. While they feed on a variety of plants, certain types are more commonly targeted. For nymphs, the choice of plants is influenced by the accessibility and quality of the xylem sap. Here are some common preferences:

  • Trees: Oak, maple, willow, and ash trees are commonly fed upon by cicada nymphs. These trees provide ample xylem sap for the nymphs.
  • Shrubs: Woody shrubs also serve as a food source for both nymphs and adults.
  • General Preference: While specific preferences can vary by species and region, cicadas generally favor large, well-established plants that can support their nutritional needs.

Are Cicadas Harmful to Plants?

Cicadas pose minimal threat to mature trees and most plants through their feeding habits. However, the way they lay eggs can cause some damage:

  • Egg Laying: Female cicadas create small slits in branches and twigs to lay their eggs. This can harm young trees and cause flagging (breaking) of small branches, leading to cosmetic damage.
  • Minimal Impact: The damage from egg laying typically results in dead twigs and leaves at the ends of branches. This light pruning usually does not significantly impact healthy, mature plants.

Protecting Your Plants from Cicadas

To protect young and newly planted trees during a cicada emergence, consider the following measures:

  • Netting: Cover small trees with fine mesh netting or cheesecloth to prevent cicadas from laying eggs on them.
  • Pruning: After the egg-laying period, prune away damaged branches to encourage new growth.
  • Avoid Insecticides: Refrain from using insecticides, as they can harm beneficial predators of cicadas.

The Ecological Benefits of Cicadas

Cicadas play a vital role in the ecosystem despite the potential damage they can cause:

  • Food Source: They provide a rich food source for various animals, including birds, chipmunks, foxes, raccoons, and even other insects like the cicada killer wasp.
  • Soil Aeration: When cicada nymphs emerge from the ground, they leave behind holes that help aerate the soil, improving water infiltration and root growth.
  • Nutrient Cycling: As cicadas die and decompose, they return valuable nutrients to the soil, enriching the ecosystem.

FAQs About Cicadas

  • Can Cicadas Bite? No, cicadas cannot bite humans as they have piercing and sucking mouthparts designed for feeding on plant sap.
  • How Long Do Cicadas Live? Cicadas spend most of their lives as nymphs underground. Depending on the species, this can range from two to 17 years. Adult cicadas live for two to six weeks.
  • Are Cicadas and Locusts the Same? No, cicadas and locusts are different. Cicadas belong to the order Hemiptera, while locusts are grasshoppers in the order Orthoptera. They differ in anatomy, behavior, and lifecycle.


The article creates an understanding about what do cicadas eat and their lifecycle helps in appreciating their role in the ecosystem. While they may cause some damage to young trees, their benefits to the environment far outweigh these concerns. By protecting young plants and allowing cicadas to complete their natural cycle, we contribute to a healthier and more balanced ecosystem.

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