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Phylum Arthropoda

Class Insecta

Order Hemiptera

Suborder Auchenorrhyncha

Infraorder Cicadomorpha

Superfamily Cicadoidea





The Cicadoidea, cicadas are a superfamily of insects in the order Hemiptera, suborder Auchenorrhyncha along with smaller jumping bugs such as leafhoppers and froghoppers. About 2,500 species of cicada have been described; many undescribed species remain.

Cicadas have prominent eyes set wide apart, short antennae, and membranous front wings. They have an exceptionally loud song, produced not by stridulation but by vibrating drumlike tymbals rapidly. The earliest fossil Cicadomorpha appeared in the Upper Permian period; extant species occur all around the world in temperate to tropical climates. They typically live in trees, feeding on sap, and laying their eggs in a slit in the bark. Most cicadas are cryptic, singing at night to avoid predators. The periodic cicadas spend most of their lives as underground nymphs, only emerging after 13 or 17 years, most likely to reduce losses by satiating their predators.

Cicadas have been featured in literature since the time of Homer's Iliad, and as motifs in art from the Chinese Shang dynasty. They have been used in myths and folklore to represent carefree living and immortality. Cicadas are eaten in various countries, including China where the nymphs are served deep-fried in Shandong cuisine.

There are at least 1300 cicada species worldwide with the majority being in the tropics. Most genera are restricted to a single biogeographical region and many species have a very limited range. This high degree of endemism has been used to study the biogeography of complex island groups such as in Indonesia and the Orient.

There are about 200 described species in Australia and New Zealand, around 150 in South Africa, over 170 in America north of Mexico, at least 800 in Latin America, and over 200 in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. There are about 100 species in the Palaearctic. A few species are found in southern Europe, and a single species in England, the New Forest cicada, Melampsalta montana, which also occurs in continental Europe.

Most of the North American species are in the genus Neotibicen: the annual or jar fly or dog-day cicadas (so named because they emerge in late July and August).The best-known North American genus is Magicicada. These periodical cicadas have an extremely long life cycle of 13 or 17 years, suddenly and briefly emerging in large numbers.

The "singing" of male cicadas is not stridulation such as many familiar species of insects produce, for example crickets. Instead, male cicadas have a noisemaker called a tymbal below each side of the anterior abdominal region. The tymbals are structures of the exoskeleton formed into complex membranes with thin, membranous portions and thickened ribs. Contraction of internal muscles buckles the tymbals inwards thereby producing a click; on relaxation of the muscles, the tymbals return to their original position, producing another click. The male abdomen is largely hollow, and acts as a sound box. By rapidly vibrating these membranes, a cicada combines the clicks into apparently continuous notes, and enlarged chambers derived from the tracheae serve as resonance chambers with which it amplifies the sound. The cicada also modulates the song by positioning its abdomen toward or away from the substrate. Partly by the pattern in which it combines the clicks, each species produces its own distinctive mating songs and acoustic signals, ensuring that the song attracts only appropriate mates.

In mythology and folklore Cicadas have been used as money, in folk medicine, to forecast the weather, to provide song (in China), and in folklore and myths around the world. In France, the cicada represents the folklore of Provence and the Mediterranean cities.

The cicada has represented insouciance since classical antiquity. Jean de La Fontaine began his collection of fables Les fables de La Fontaine with the story La Cigale et la Fourmi (The Cicada and the Ant) based on one of Aesop's fables: in it the cicada spends the summer singing while the ant stores away food, and finds herself without food when the weather turns bitter.

In China, the phrase "to shed the golden cicada skin" is the poetic name of the tactic of using deception to escape danger, specifically of using decoys (leaving the exuviae) to fool enemies. It became one of the 36 classic Chinese strategems. In the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West (16th century), the protagonist Priest of Tang was named the Golden Cicada; in this context the multiple shedding of shell of the cicada symbolizes the many stages of transformation required of a person before all illusions have been broken and one reaches enlightenment. This is also referred to in Japanese mythical ninja lore, as the technique of utsusemi (i.e., literally cicada), where ninjas would trick opponents into attacking a decoy. More generally, the cicada symbolises rebirth and immortality in Chinese tradition.

In Japan, the cicada is associated with the summer season. According to Lafcadio Hearn, the song of Meimuna opalifera, called "tsuku-tsuku boshi", is said to indicate the end of summer, and it is called so because of its particular call.

In an Ancient Greek myth, Tithonus eventually turns into a cicada after being granted immortality, but not eternal youth, by Zeus. The Greeks also used a cicada sitting on a harp as emblematic of music.