News Category: Cicadas 101
Tibicen Cicadas take anywhere from two to nine years to go from a 1st instar nymph to the 5th and final instar stage. All this happens below-ground and in total darkness, can you believe it? Cicadas emerge from the ground in their final stage of development known as the 5th instar stage. After fighting it's way through the soil, the Cicada's primary concern is to find a safe place to carry out it's final molt into adulthood. This is usually done by climbing the nearest tree which ends up being the host plant that nourished it below ground during it's long development. Sometimes though, for reasons I don't understand, they can miss the boat entirely and just find some other convenient place in which to molt.
If I Can't Anchor, I Won't Molt Hypothesis
Any convenient place to molt will do just as long as it is a place where the Cicada can firmly anchor its legs. The thumbnail to the right demonstrates this as the Tibicen canicularis pictured felt quite comfortable in anchoring itself to the bottom side of my little finger. It took a while for it to find a spot that it liked but after it settled down the molt process started. See the August 6th, 2004 article for more pictures of this Cicada molting on the side of my finger. Once the 5th instar nymph chose a comfortable spot, I could feel it gently flexing it's legs in order to get a firm grip.
To prove the If I Can't Anchor, I Won't Molt hypothesis, tests were performed in which newly emerged nymphs were held in a container made of either smooth glass or plastic and the urge to molt was impeded greatly for as long as two hours or more after emergence. The Cicada nymphs were in little compartments which kept them isolated from each other.
4 Cicada Nymphs + 1 Jar = Very Bad Idea!!
In the beginning of my specimen collecting, I put four (4) nymphs into a single mason jar. This proved to be less than ideal as all the cicada nymphs attempted to attach themselves to each other and attempted to molt. One cicada did not survive during the ordeal. Imagine one giant ball of nymphs wrestling with each other for the best position ON each other to molt. Not a pretty site, let me tell you.
A Solution Found That Works for Everybody.
Fortunately, I came up with a solution that seems to work for everyone involved. (Myself included :P) The picture to the left shows what I came up with in order to avoid the problem of Cicadas molting too early and to avoid them from coming into contact with each other. This solution works quite well and kills two birds with one stone...so they say.
With Every Rule, there are Exceptions.
There's always one bad apple that sometimes spoils it for the whole bunch. It should be noted that in one instance one Cicada started molting despite being held in a smooth plastic container. The Cicada started to molt while it was on its back within the container with its legs clinging to each other. I am of the mindset that this particular Cicada that started molting (due to it's limited brain power) thought it was safely anchored to something when it started molting.
To avoid a situation like this in the future it is important to periodically check the nymphs in the tray just to make sure there are no nymphs on their backs or sides. If you find them, then put them on their legs again.