Q: My sister says cicadas are the same as locusts. Are they? I’m keeping my fingers crossed as I have a dinner bet on this.
A: Well, get your fork and knife ready because you are correct, cicadas and locusts are different species with very distinct characteristics. The fame of locusts is of Biblical proportions because of their tendency to swarm in large numbers. However, it should be noted, cicadas have been known to show a similar behavior but they are not nearly as destructive. Locusts belong to the family of family Acrididae (grasshoppers) and Tettigoniidae (katydids) whereas cicadas belong to the family Cicadidae.
Locusts are found on every continent outside of North America and Antarctica, so they really have an impact all over the world, but not here. The U.S. did have a serious locust species around the late 1800s called the Rocky Mountain locust, and it caused numerous problems for settlers in the region, but then it quietly became extinct around 1900. When food supplies are high, the locusts will produce large numbers of offspring. The large number of offspring causes the locusts to swarm to other outlying areas seeking other food supplies and better habitat sites. So the locusts start migrating from their original birth site in bands or swarms. There may be millions at one time eating every green thing in sight. The area of atmosphere the locusts cover may be as much as 500 square kilometers. The largest recorded swarm has covered more than 1,000 square kilometers. Typically agricultural crops are highly nutritional and are grown in large patches or plots providing the perfect place for locusts. Once the location is found there can be severe damage the crops, making the locust a serious pest to farmers.
Cicadas have large, membranous forewings which easily extend beyond their abdomen. These wings are important for flying. Cicadas have distinctive, large eyes located far apart in their head. The noise we hear in our oak trees is often caused by the male cicada. The sound of cicadas is distinctive, and species can be differentiated by their calls. Only males can make sounds, most of which are calling songs to attract female mates. Periodical cicadas are species with synchronized development so they mature into adults in the same year, usually on 13 or 17 year life cycles. News reports and interest pieces are popular around the time the cicadas emerge. Florida, however, does not have periodical populations of cicadas, and adults emerge every year from late spring through the fall. Cicadas are not considered to be a pest of any significance in Florida. They do not require treatment and are best left alone, since any damage they cause is negligible. Cicadas do not bite or sting and do not carry harmful diseases. They are a food source for wildlife and can even be a food source for people – but I will let you try them first!