Archived content - Cicada (2 of 46)

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A. Introduction

Tibicen dorsatus - Cicada of the prairies

The Canadian National Collection (CNC) of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes is considered one of the best collections of its kind in the world in terms of size, species representation and level of curation. The collection, maintained and developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's (AAFC) Biodiversity Theme, is estimated to contain approximately 16 million specimens.

The CNC includes a representation of cicadas from many parts of the world. These insects are some of the largest and noisiest known. Although cicadas do not cause great harm to Canadian agriculture, AAFC's collection gives insight into to their strange lives and economic importance, on collecting and preserving specimens, on the origin, evolution and classification of cicadas, and makes it easy to identify the 45 species that live in Canada and adjacent United States.

The world's biggest (Pomponia imperatoria) and smallest (Beameria venosa) cicadas

The world's biggest (Pomponia imperatoria) cicada

The world's smallest (Beameria venosa) cicada

Cicadas are among the largest of insects. They are certainly the noisiest. On a quiet day the song of the Dog-day Cicada of eastern Canada, (Tibicen canicularis) commonly is heard at a distance of more than a kilometer. In fruit-growing districts cicadas may be a considered a pest; but in their strange lives they are an object of fascination and wonder.

Cicadas are the dinosaurs of the bug world in more than one sense. They are the largest and most primitive-looking of all the sucking insects ("true" bugs, variously called Order Hemiptera, Homoptera, or Rhynchota). The smallest species such as Beameria venosa are moderately large for an insect, but the great cicada of southeast Asia, Pomponia imperatoria has a body 7 cm long and 2.5 cm wide and a wing span of over 20 cm. Our cicadas are much smaller, but are still impressive compared to most other insects, except for the giant water bugs and the largest moths. They can achieve these large sizes despite predation because their young ("nymphs") live underground.

The large size and loud noise of cicadas attract much attention. Images of cicadas date back thousands of years. Numerous legends and myths Footnote 1 about cicadas are probably as old as civilization. But cicadas are elusive: they hide for years in the soil, and once the adults have emerged they fly up into trees where they are hard to spot. Discerning the source of their songs from a distance requires triangulation, good eyesight, and patience; but the fun of tracking them down makes up for the effort required.

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