Bug of the Week: Cicada Nymph

A few weeks ago in Summer Sounds 1, we saw the adult cicada.

If you have cicadas around, you may have found some of these.

cicada exoskeleton

It is the dried “skin” or exoskeleton of the cicada nymph. Cicada nymphs spend a year or more underground feeding on tree roots. When they are ready to emerge as adults, they dig out of the ground, crawl up onto a tree or the side of a building, and shed their exoskeleton for the last time.

A few days ago we dug up something really cool in the garden.

cicada nymph

What is this weird grub? It is a live cicada nymph! Check out the white eyes. They were eerie.

It was really clumsy and kept rolling onto its back.

cicada nymph

On its back, it was easier to see the large front legs used for digging, with dark claws. In between the front legs is the tube mouth the cicada uses to suck on tree roots.

You can see those things in the shed exoskeleton as well.

cicada exoskeleton

Note:  if you have one of shells, examine it closely. In the back where the skin has split you can often see tiny white threads. Those are the reminants of the cicadas breathing tubes, called trachae.

After a few photos, the cicada nymph went back into the soil. Hopefully, it will be singing in the trees someday soon.

Edit: A friend posted a link to a cool video of a cicada molting. Thanks Molly!


  1. Alicia Olson

    I found 3 cicada exoskeletons and one dead adult under a maple tree in my yard this morning. This maple has been having trouble for years. Can I assume this is due to cicada nymphs feeding on it? Should I give up on it and just replace it with another tree? There are also holes burrowed on the trunk, would a cicada do that too? Any one that has the answers, they would be appreciated. These bugs kind of creep me out!

  2. Roberta

    The cicada nymphs suck the juices of the plant roots underground, and in general they are thought to do very little damage., especially if you are only seeing a few. Because they have sucking mouthparts, cicadas can’t chew holes.

    By the way, a lot of people don’t like bugs, but the more you know about insects the less frightening they are. Cicadas can’t hurt you. 🙂

    Without seeing the tree I can only give you a guess, but there are some maple borers (beetles) that can harm maple trees. Also, maples decline with age. Different species of trees have different life spans, just like most other living things, and start to decline as they reach their maximum age. If you are concerned, you might want to consult a tree specialist, such as a certified arborist. Good luck.

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