Planet Earth

Shooting Streams of Pee, Cicadas Will do Weird Things During the Emergence

The 2024 cicada emergence will be loud, but it will also bring some strange behavior from these insects.

By Elizabeth GamilloApr 30, 2024 10:00 AM
Cicada Group
(Credit: Jeff Herge/Getty Images)

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Cicadas emerging in 2024 are part of a historic double brood. Both 13-year and 17-year-old cicada broods are uprising simultaneously. An event like this happens once every 221 years and double broods like the ones emerging in the spring have not been seen since 1803.

But 13-year and 17-year-old broods emerging in the same year do happen every 5 to 6 years — just not at the same time as this year’s cicadas. As the cicadas emerge as nymphs and later molt into winged cicadas, they will do a variety of surprising behaviors.

The Cicadas Will Shoot Streams of Pee

Most insects excrete urine as droplets; cicadas pee in a continuous stream. A new study published in March of 2024 in PNAS found that understating how cicadas pee can help researchers unlock new details about fluid dynamics.

Cicadas peeing in a stream is unique because most insects that feed on sap, like cicadas, excrete it as droplets because it takes less energy. But cicadas drink so much sap that peeing in droplets is too much work.

As larger insects, it’s more energy-cost-effective to pee in a stream than in drops. Cicadas are the smallest animals to pee in streams. The findings might help researchers develop tech for soft robots, drug deliveries, and additive manufacturing.


Read More: The 2024 Cicada Emergence Is Coming, Here’s Everything to Know


The Broods Could Sound like Sirens

Male cicadas will chorus to their hearts’ content in the spring and summer of 2024. Their songs are a way to claim territory and attract mates.

The cicadas are so loud that their choruses can reach above 90 A-weighted decibels (dBA) or as loud as a lawnmower. Still, periodical cicadas are not the most audible. The loudest cicadas are the African cicadas, Brevisana brevis. Their songs have measured to 110 decibels, as loud as a chainsaw.


Read More: The Emergence of Brood X Cicadas


Cicadas are Nutritious

(Credit: Don Cornett/Getty Images)

No need to worry, cicadas are not dangerous and can actually be used in some cooking dishes. There is a misconception that they could harm gardens and crops, but this is untrue. This thought came from colonists who first saw the cicadas and called them ‘locusts,’ but these insects are not related to each other.

Cicadas are an abundant source of food for other animals like turtles and birds. The insects also aerate lawns as nymphs and add nutrients to the soil from their first molt and after they die.


Read More: Do Insects Have Feelings and Consciousness?


Cicadas’ Abdomens Could Spread Fungus

(Credit: Gerry Bishop/Shutterstock)

A fungal parasite called Massospora Cicadina could infect some of the emerging cicadas. And the fungus has the ability to spread among cicadas of both sexes.

During the ‘stage I’ of infection, males will start to flick their wings to make them appear like female cicadas and attract other male cicadas to the point where they will attempt to mate. The close contact spreads the fungus.

In ‘stage two’ infections, cicadas do not flick their wings but will fly around and spread the powdery fungus from their abdomens.


Read More: Cicada Wings Inspired Methods to Keep Surfaces Clean of Dust, Frost, and Bacteria


Living Underground for Over a Decade

(Credit: lawcain/Getty Images)

After the 2024 cicada emergence, the cycle will repeat. When the cicadas emerge from their 13- and 17-year cycles, they will mate and lay more eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the nymphs, about the size of an ant, will go into the ground until it’s time to surface again.


Read More: 5 Of The World's Largest Insects


Article Sources

Our writers at Discovermagazine.com use peer-reviewed studies and high-quality sources for our articles, and our editors review for scientific accuracy and editorial standards. Review the sources used below for this article:


Elizabeth Gamillo is a staff writer for Discover and Astronomy. She has written for Science magazine as their 2018 AAAS Diverse Voices in Science Journalism Intern and was a daily contributor for Smithsonian. She is a graduate student in MIT's Graduate Program in Science Writing.

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