Everything a Fly Fisher Needs to Know About the Cicada

What type of insect is a cicada? 
The 17-year cicada, Magicicada cassinii, is a six-legged insect classified in the scientific order Hemiptera, commonly called true bugs.

Are cicadas like or related to locusts? 
No! While cicadas are classified along with other six-legged insects and are similar in shape and size to a grasshopper or a locust, they do not eat vegetation like these two insects.

Are cicadas harmful? 
No! They are not harmful to humans or any animals. And while they can be harmful to young plants, they are actually beneficial to older plants, since the cicadas actually prune off the dead branches of a tree or plant thus allowing the plant to conserve energy.

What happens during the 17 years between cicada ‘hatches’? 
Once the eggs hatch from a ‘current’ generation, the young cicada “nymphs” fall to the earth and lie dormant for the next 17 years.

But why don’t they hatch every year and why might some hatch in shorter periods, e.g. 13-17 years? 
There are several theories given for this lengthy cycle and differences in the cycling period. One is that the cycling period avoids synchronization with populations of their predators, such as killer wasps which prey upon the cicadas.

I’ve heard that about cicadas in other parts of our country (e.g. VA, WV and NC) having their hatch in a different year. Is this true? 
Yes it is. Brood IX (i.e. 9) hatched in those areas in 2020. The brood which will be prolific in our area of the eastern United States is Brood X (i.e. 10).

Which is the most prolific brood of cicadas? 
Brood X is the most prolific of known generations through history.

How far does Brood X extend? 
The range of brood X is west to Missouri, south to Georgia, north to Michigan and east to Long Island, NY.

I understand there was a cicada brood present in 2020. So why do different broods of cicadas have different 17 year cycles? 
It is thought that different cycling lengths enhance their chance of survival in the event of cold winters. This is because cicadas evolved in more temperate climates, so extremely cold winters decrease their chance of survival.

Ok, so how long have cicadas been around? 
Perhaps back 1.8 million years to the Pleistocene Epoch (last Ice Age). This was a time when our Earth was dominated by a number of mammal species, along with highly developed plants and the appearance of humanoid species. Who knows? Perhaps our ancient ancestors feasted on the 17 year cicadas, or used them as fish bait?

Are cicadas harmful, and dangerous to eat? 
While they are disgusting, they are safe to eat (if you care to do so), as compared to stink bugs (which I know fish do not eat). Cicadas provide an abundance of energy for fish. There are stories (e.g. from Lefty) of fresh water fish gorging on cicadas, such that their bellies were full of devoured cicadas.
My last question, what fly can I use that represents a cicada? 
There are many fly patterns which imitate cicadas. Many great representations are found on the internet. Our Beginner fly tying program for the month of April features one of the many cicada fly patterns.

By Don Fine