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Archived content - Cicada (7 of 46)

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A. Introduction (Continued)

4. About Names, Glossary

Common names

Cicadas have many names in numerous cultures, often referring to the noise they make. "Vibrating" in Chinese is written with a supplementary character beside a pictograph of a cicada with its wings extended (dan, "alone"). Other languages often imitate the sound the cicada makes. Cicada in Latin was pronounced "kik-áh-da"; in Greek it is zitzi, in Maori it is kikihi and in Fijian it is kaka.

An illustration showing a cicada, the word 'zitzi' ('cicada' in Greek), and a Chinese pictograph of a cicada with its wings extended.
Other ways to say "cicada"

Because cicadas are much more abundant in southerly regions, most North American common names come to us from the eastern USA. Cicadas in that part of the world are clearly of two sorts: the "locusts" that appear in staggering numbers in early summer, and quickly die; and "harvestflies" that appear afterwards and buzz loudly from treetops until autumn comes. These represent the genera Magicicada and Tibicen respectively. The term "locust" should be replaced by "periodical cicada" to avoid confusion with the biblical locusts, which are grasshoppers; but the common name lingers on for the "17-year locust", Magicicada septendecim (Linnaeus).

The sole Canadian contribution to such English common names is "salmonfly", which comes to us from the Kootenay Valley where Platypedia areolata may swarm in considerable numbers and cause local damage to fruit trees. Note that the same term is used by US anglers for giant stoneflies, Pteronarcys species.

While common names are favoured by amateurs, there are a limited number of them compared with scientific names. All too frequently a dialect version of the Latin name is used as a "common name," even though the name is frequently inappropriate for that species and sometimes is misapplied (e.g., "walking cicada" for Okanagana synodica, apparently an error for the superficially similar Clidophleps vagans, whose name means "walking"). For some insects common names are proposed based on their obviously distinctive features, designated by an asterisk (*). However, the ultimate test of a common name is whether it becomes commonly used. It is left to the reader to judge the utility of such terms.

Scientific names

These are considered to be international and so are formed from classical Latin or Greek roots, or are "latinized" (e.g., "yakimaensis" is formed of the native American place name Yakima, and the Latin suffix "-ensis" meaning "from there.")

Names for collective groups of species (order, superfamily, family, etc.) are single words that usually have a similar termination to indicate what hierarchal level is implied. Insect ordinal names usually end in -ptera ("wing"); superfamily names in -oidea ("like"), family names in -idae. Thus, Cicadidae belong to the superfamily Cicadoidea in the order Homoptera (or Hemiptera, depending on the classification used). Genus names, because they are so very numerous, do not have standardized endings.

Each species name is binominal, composed of two words: a genus name (like a person's family name) followed by a "trivial" name (like a "given" name). The genus name is always capitalized, to differentiate it from a "trivial" name, as these names may sometimes be confusingly similar (e.g., Tibicen tibicen).The combined species name, when first cited, is followed by the name of the person who created that name. If the trivial name was created in one genus, and later transferred to another genus (e.g., Cicada tibicen was later renamed Tibicen tibicen) then the author's name is placed in brackets. In citing a species name in a context where the genus name is self-evident, the genus name may be abbreviated (e.g., T. tibicen). The binominal name should not be reduced to just the "trivial" name.


Names peculiar to cicadas, or incorrectly used in this family, are listed here. For other technical names, see Invertebrate anatomy online.

technically, a theca fused with a vesica to form a solid structure (as in Platypedia); sometimes confused with the uncus [Simons 1954], which in many cicadas wraps around the theca and appears to be a sheath for it (as in Tibicen).

the hind margin of the pronotum, traversing the thorax between the wing bases.

cruciform elevation ("the X"):
the base of the scutellum is an elevated, X-shaped crest between the wing bases.

the last ventral plate (sternite) of the male abdomen forms a lower cover for the terminal segment.

see tympanum.

operculum (plural: opercula):
an extension of the underside of the thorax which covers the tympanum.

in cicadas, this term is wrongly used to denote the enlarged part of the face (frons) bearing the large muscles that work the sucking pump (cibarium).

the sound-producing flexible plate with reinforced "ribs" at the base of the abdomen above the typanum.

the sound-receiving membrane at the base of the abdomen on the underside.

a rigid plate extended from the lower side of the anal tube (abdominal segment X) that forms an upper cover for the male terminal segment.

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