What do Cicadas Eat and Drink?

Cicadas are probably some of the most mysterious insects in the world, and for good reasons. There are more than 3.000 known species, and scientists suggest there could be many more that we don’t know much about. But what’s most intriguing about cicadas is their reproductive pattern. You see, cicadas are of two types: annual and periodical.

The annual type emerges every year and look different than the others. These are generally green with black eyes. The periodical ones emerge every 13 or 17 years and are black with red eyes.

Given this reproductive pattern, it’s not easy why researchers have difficulties categorizing these insects in terms of behavior, feeding, natural predators, mating, etc. Today’s article will take a dive into cicadas’ eating behavior, looking to unveil some of the mystery surrounding these creatures.

What do Cicadas Eat Underground?

Cicadas undergo three growth phases during their life cycle:

  1. Egg – The female cicada will lay up to 400 eggs in one go. They will usually place them in shade on tree branches and twigs. The eggs will stay there between 6 to 10 weeks before they will hatch and reveal the nymph.
  2. Nymph – This second phase will have the nymph bury itself in the ground upon birth. It will spend most of its lifetime there before turning into an adult and coming out to breed.
  3. The adult – This is the adult cicada which will live between 4 to 6 weeks. It will spend most of its adult time looking for a mate to spread its genes.

The average lifespan of most cicadas is around 2 to 5 years, with notable exceptions (the 13 and 17-year periodical cicadas). Combine this with the fact that the adults-only live up to 6 weeks, resulting in the cicada spending most of its lifetime as a nymph. And the nymph does a lot of eating, preferably as much as possible.

The nymphs will feed on plant juices as they live underground and have access to plant roots. This will basically constitute their entire diet and will pass on the same feeding behavior to adult cicadas.

What do Cicadas Eat Above Ground?

While the adults have less of an appetite compared to the nymphs, they will still consume a lot of food during their short lifespan. Cicada swarms can reach numbers in the millions, often providing farmers concerned with their crops with a terrifying sight. However, there’s no reason to lose your cool since cicadas are not pests and are harmless to crops.

Just like nymphs, cicadas prefer to consume plant fluids coming from young trees. Cicadas will generally swarm trees like oak, willows, some species of ash, or maples and feed and lay eggs on the branches. This can cause some damage to the younger trees, but not the older ones since these can be more difficult to penetrate and not as juicy.

The impressive aspect about the cicadas’ feeding pattern is that they tend not to damage the trees or plants they consume. The nymphs will puncture the plants’ roots and suck some of the fluids inside. The plant won’t suffer in the long run unless there’s multiple nymphs feeding off of it. The same goes for younger trees swarmed by adults.

What to Feed Cicadas in Captivity?

Allow me to begin this chapter by saying that it’s pretty unusual to breed cicadas. The reason is that cicadas’ biology makes it very difficult to breed this insect as you would a butterfly or a mantis. When it comes to feeding, there are 3 core aspects to remember:

  1. Cicadas eat nutrient-poor foods – Adult cicadas feed on xylem, which is a nutrient-poor form of tree sap. The nutrient-rich one is phloem. Since cicadas need a lot of xylem, you will need living trees available to them 24/7. This comes with the obvious problem of building a large enough enclosure to fit a living tree. Either that or have a lot of branches available around the clock to feed your cicadas.
  2. There are no artificial replacements – Unlike aquarium fish, who can eat artificial foods, there’s nothing like that for cicadas. That’s because people don’t usually grow cicadas. There are some attempts to create cicada food, but nothing definitive that you can rely on.
  3. Cicadas don’t drink free-standing liquids – Don’t expect to milk an oak and serve them the sap on a platter. They will most likely ignore it since cicadas need to dig into the bark to get the sap themselves. Just like mantises won’t consume dead prey, even if you’ve just killed it.

These aspects are enough to give anyone some serious headaches. But if you’re still determined to go for it, now you know.

Do Cicadas Eat Other Insects?

No, cicadas do not consume any protein-rich food. They are exclusively herbivores, and they only feed on liquids that they can extract from plants or trees.

Will Cicadas Eat Flower Nectar?

The answer is no again. Most people are interested in questions like this one because they are concerned that cicadas will destroy their garden or crops. While some cicadas species feed on sugarcane (a type of giant grass), most species only consume tree fluids. You dont need to worry about your garden, no matter how scary the cicada swarm may be.

You should actually be glad when the swarm arrives since cicadas are filled with protein and can be quite tasty when cooked right.

Will Cicadas Eat Leaves?

Cicadas don’t eat leaves as nymphs, and they don’t do it as adults either. Cicadas are among the few specialized insects with a very limited and unvaried diet. Which is a great thing, seeing as some cicada swarms can bring billions of insects on the table.

Do Cicadas Suck Blood of Animals or Humans?

That would be both awesome and terrifying at the same time. But no, they don’t. I hate to repeat myself, but cicadas are herbivores. They don’t sting or bite humans or other animals as they have literally zero defense mechanisms. It’s probably why they have so many natural predators, humans included.

Conclusion

Cicadas’ diet is fairly simple yet difficult to satisfy if you plan to grow and breed the insects. I also don’t recommend trying it. As far as I know, the record for keeping a cicada in captivity is 28 days or so. And you’re unlikely that you will reach or surpass it.

Also, why would you breed cicadas when there are so many other beautiful insects that are more accustomed to life in captivity? If you’re looking to know what those are or have questions about the cicadas, hit the comment section below or send a message via the contact form.

I would be happy to assist.

Cicadas

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