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Cicadas and Locusts are two closely related insect species which is why there has been a lot of wild confusion among the masses when it comes to identifying them. Most people often confuse one for the other, and if you’re looking to know all the differences there are between locusts and cicadas, you’ll be surprised at the long list we have come up with in this article.
By the end of it, we are sure you would have little to no trouble differentiating between a nasty locust and a harmless cicada. Let us begin.
Most commonly, a locust looks similar to a grasshopper with big hind legs, which help them to hop or jump. Locusts may not differ in color, but they differ more in form.
There are over more than 600 species of locusts found in North America; they differ mostly in color ranging from very drab to very colorful. These large insects have two long antennae located on their head.
They have large, bulbous eyes that are well separated and a chewing mouth which helps them in munching and consuming green crops.
In their solitary nymph phase, the locusts adjust their coloration to match that of their surroundings, and they have low metabolic and oxygen intake rates.
In the gregarious phase, they have a black and yellow or orange coloration in a fixed pattern; the metabolic and oxygen intake rates are higher in this phase.
They have long legs, short wings, and dorsal sclerite in the solitary phase; in the gregarious phase, they have broader shoulders and longer wings with saddle-shaped pronotum.
Cicadas are one of the large insects that belong to the group of sound-producing insects; they have two pairs of translucent, orange-veined wings. They have prominent compound eyes and three simple eyes, which are mostly dark with wide-spaced red eyes.
The average size of male cicadas is between 0.8-2 inches long, whereas the females are slightly bigger than the males. Their antennae are cone-shaped, and they have three joints in the front segment of their legs.
They may have a black or orange-colored underside of the abdomen that is striped with orange or black, which varies from one species to another.
Cicadas can’t bite or sting, but they have mouthparts that help them to pierce plants and suck sap when they are in the nymph stage. An adult cicada can pierce human skin, and it can be painful, but their bite is neither venomous nor harmful.
Locusts can be found near farms, crops, and places with vegetation they get to feed on. They are considered a great threat to crops and farms as a single locust can feed on food equal to its body weight, and a swarm of locusts congrats can clear a field within a few minutes.
Most cicadas are found in deciduous forests that have hardwood trees like oaks, maples, and willows. These forests and trees provide them with sufficient food supply and physical conditions in which they can easily survive.
Class, Order, Family
Locusts are from the Acrididae family, and they belong to the Orthoptera order, which is further divided into suborders locusts and grasshoppers on one side and crickets on the other.
Cicadas belong to the Cicadidae family that covers every bug that produces or makes any kind of sound, has prominent eyes, compound, and simple eyes, along with two membranous pairs of wings. And their class is of Hemiptera types or “true bug.”
Locusts are found in almost every continent of the world except Antarctica, but they are mainly found in Africa, Arabia, Asia, and Spain.
A flying locust swarm can travel hundreds of miles in search of food which is the reason why they spread fast, and a large swarm can cover a fifth of Earth’s land surface.
Annual cicadas are found throughout the world, while the periodicals are found in North America and central and eastern regions of the United States, including Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, New York, Illinois, and Georgia.
Locust is known for commonly consuming leaves and tender tissues of various types of plants. They are some species that consume dry plant matter on the ground, and they also feed on deaf grasshoppers when there is a scarcity of plant food.
Locusts are tenacious hoppers in their nymph phase, and their appetite is larger in this phase as compared to adults.
. A swarm of locusts feed on a variety of agricultural crops like corn, oats, peanuts, and citrus; they even feed on several kinds of vegetables and grasses like Bermuda grass and crabgrass.
Cicadas have piercing mouthparts that they use to puncture roots and suck up fluids from the plant’s xylem.
Unlike locusts, cicadas don’t feed primarily on plant leaves, and their activity does not cause any type of serious damage to plants.
Adult cicadas feed on plant fluids from young twigs and woody shrubs; trees like Oak, maples, willow, and ash are commonly hosted by Cicadas.
Locusts produce sound by rubbing one part of their body against another body part. The noise produced by locusts is a soft, muffled buzzing sound.
They generally produce this sound both during day and night depending on the species; this process is called stridulation.
Locusts make sounds to attract mates, and this sound also plays an important role in moderating other locust behaviors based upon environmental conditions.
It is during summer when you get to hear the undeniable sound of cicadas. There are sound boxes found in the abdomen of the male cicadas, and they make noise by expanding and contracting a membrane called the tymbal.
They produce a collective buzzing and clicking sound. Cicadas are well capable of producing a loud sound that can reach over 90 decibels. The male cicadas produce sound to attract females, and this noise is louder during hot days as the males like warm temperatures.
Every species of locusts undergo the three main stages: egg, nymph, and adult in their lifecycle. However, the duration of time in each stage varies in different species.
The female locusts lay their eggs in the ground, which has mostly hard and firm soil. They lay their eggs up to 4 inches underground. Eggs are laid in the ground in groups of 50, and these groups are called pods. Female locusts can lay over 1-3 egg pods at one time.
The eggs hatch after two weeks of being laid underground. The young locusts that hatch out of the eggs are called “hoppers” or “nymphs,” and within one or two months, they go through five molting stages called “instars,” and their wings are developed after the fifth instar.
Locusts after the fifth molt are called fledglings, and they can’t fly because their body takes around seven days to harden and become capable of flying.
In the early stage of adult life, they feed mostly on vegetation which gives them the necessary energy for reproduction and flying. Within two weeks, a fledgling locust reaches sexual maturity and becomes an adult.
Like locusts, cicadas also have three main stages in their lifecycle: eggs, nymphs, and adults. The female cicadas lay their rice-shaped eggs in a groove that she makes using her ovipositor in twigs and branches of trees, and they lay over 400 eggs at different sites.
The groove protects the eggs and provides the young cicadas with tree fluid to feed on, but these groves kill small branches; it is called flagging when branches die, and the leaves turn brown.
Once the young cicadas hatch out of their eggs, they begin to crawl from the groove and fall to the ground from where they keep digging until they reach the roots of the tree to feed on. Depending on the species, the cicadas stay underground for 2-17 years, actively tunneling and feeding.
After spending 2-17 years underground, the cicadas emerge out as nymphs. Now they climb to the nearest vertical surfaces to shed their exoskeleton; after shedding their old skin, their wings inflate, and adult skin hardens, which makes them ready to begin their adult life.
Adult cicadas spend most of their time searching for mates, the males sing, and females respond, and the mating process begins.
After searching for a mate, a male locust mounts the back of her and applies the tip of his abdomen to her in order to release their sperm that gets transferred by the reproductive tract to the sperm sac of the female locust.
The stored sperm is released when the female passes down eggs to the oviduct, and fertilization occurs. When mating is over, the females find sand that is warm and moist to lay down their eggs by pushing their abdomen down into the soil.
Eggs are laid with frothy fluid, which helps in maintaining oxygen supply, and it hardens slightly.
Cicadas have drum-like structures on their abdomen with which they produce a sound that helps to call females for mating, and the female cicadas flick their wings to produce clicking sounds to answer these mating calls.
The mates face the opposite direction and use their wings for a little privacy. After mating is over, the female cicadas lay eggs and both male and female cicadas for within five weeks.
About 200-400 eggs are laid by the female cicadas in the tomorrow l tiny holes of the branches of trees and shrubs.
A swarm of locusts is formed when they increase in number, and there is insufficient food supply. There are different species of locusts found in the whole world, but among them, desert locusts are regarded as potential threats to crops and vegetation.
The hoppers or nymphs come together and keep moving forward in search of food, and the crowding also brings a change in their color from green, brown to a striking black and yellow coloration.
A swarm of hoppers varies in size from hundreds to millions, and the swarm may cover a few square meters or several kilometers depending on how many bands have come together.
They can easily travel about several hundreds of kilometers from their place of origin, and a swarm covering 20 square kilometers of the area can consume 3000 tons of vegetation per day.
Periodical Cicadas swarm several states of the U.S. every 17 years, coating almost everything still that they could find in their immediate vicinity.
From bouncing off the cars to swarming tree trunks and walls, Cicada swarms, known as Cicada broods, come out in different groups in different places.
In 2021, the swarm of Cicadas called ‘Brood X’ started to swarm in the middle of the month of May.
Cicada broods or swarms are not destructive as locust swarms (more on that later in the post).
Locusts are native insects to Africa, Middle East, and Asia, and they are menacing farmers for millennia. There is a reference of locusts in noble as one of the ten plagues inflicted on Egypt.
Locusts aren’t picky eaters; they can feed on almost every edible thing that comes in their path. According to a study, an average swarm of locusts destroys around 200 million kilograms of vegetation every day; this much vegetation can feed around thousands of people. An average dense and crackling swarm may contain 80 million locusts per square kilometer. They are a potential threat to the crops and pastures as they can consume food equal to their body weight each day.
The swarms can cover about 5-130 kilometers in a single day, moving in the wild. And it is nearly impossible for someone to see through the swarms with naked eyes.
Locusts destroy nearly hundreds of square kilometers of vegetation, and they can bring instability in some of the poorest regions of the world. In a recent study, it was found that more than 19 million people of East Africa are suffering from acute hunger.
In the regions recovering from a devastating drought and deadly floods, locusts are a major food security problem, and if the problem is not controlled, the locusts may wipe out the planted crops before they have the chance to grow.
Locusts have a great ability to reproduce exponentially, especially during the rainy season, as it is the perfect condition during which green plants grow, and ample food sources are available to the newborn locusts, and they reproduce rapidly and increase in number.
During this time, they become more sociable and live in a group lifestyle which is the gregarious phase; they have an enhanced endurance and larger version during this period.
Cicadas cause damage to the trees but not in an ordinary way that we humans generally think of. Although the adult cicadas feed on the leaves of the trees, their feeding does not cause any serious or lasting damage to the trees.
They are also root feeders, their larvae drop to the ground, and then they dig the ground and feed on the roots until it’s time to pupate.
Despite the fact that root-feeding robs nutrition from the trees that help it grow, arborists have never documented any damage to the trees from root feeding.
Cicadas cause damage to the trees when it is the time of the egg-laying process. The female cicadas lay eggs under the twigs or branches of the trees, and then the twigs split and die, turning the leaves of the trees into brown.
This condition is called flagging because of the contrast of brown leaves against the healthy and green leaves of the branches.