What Is The Difference Between Cicadas And Locusts?

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Cicadas and locusts are two types of insects that belong to the order Hemiptera. But what exactly is the difference between cicadas and locusts? Cicadas are typically smaller than locusts and have different behavior. The main difference between cicadas and locusts is that cicadas are in the family Cicadidae, while locusts are in the family Acrididae.

The confusion between the identification of cicadas and locusts started when English colonists saw periodical cicadas for the first time. Let us resolve the confusion between these two insects in this guide.

What Are Cicadas?

What is the difference between cicadas and locusts?

Cicadas are found in North America and other parts of the world. Cicadas are in the order Hemiptera, which also includes leafhoppers and spittlebugs. Their characteristic red eyes and sound-making abilities can be identified as distinct features.

Cicadas only emerge yearly and are called dog-day cicadas because they typically appear during the hottest summer day and are usually seen 13 or 17 years apart.

What does a cicada look like?

Cicadas are wedge-shaped with dark green to black bodies and wing veins. Cicadas have four wings that have green veins. Cicadas can also be identified by their external anatomy. For instance, the cicada exoskeletons comprise chitin, the hardest polymer.

a closer look of cicada

The eggs of this insect species are white and oblong and the size of a grain of sand but visible to the naked eye. The nymphs use their spade-like front legs to burrow underground and usually attach themselves to tree roots during the molting processes.

What are locusts?

Locusts are a variety of grasshopper that is found in Africa, Asia, and Europe. They are brown or black and have long antennae. They belong to the Acrididae family, which also includes crickets and grasshoppers.

Locusts have been known for their swarming behavior and as notorious crop destroyers. They bring down farming economies.

There are two types of locusts: the desert locust and the migratory locust. The desert locust is a loner and can swarm in thousands, but the migratory locust is not as aggressive.

Flying locust

The locust life cycles differ greatly depending upon the species. Severe locust outbreaks in African agriculture have been happening for thousands of years.

What does a locust look like?

Locusts are a type of grasshopper species. They are distinguishable from other grasshoppers by their short horns, shorter bodies, and longer and stronger wings.

Male locusts can be identified by their round and smooth abdomen, while female locusts have a pointed or jagged abdominal end.

Interestingly, locusts’ wingspan is about 250 mm on average. In contrast, Cicadas have translucent wings covering most of their body.

What is the difference between cicadas and locusts?

          Cicadas             Locusts
Cicadas are common in the United States.Locusts are mostly outside North America.
Cicadas are generally solitary creatures.Locusts can switch from solitary to gregarious as their population increases. 
Cicadas only drink plant fluids.Locusts eat leaves.
Cicadas are not considered destructive; they do not have swarming behaviour as much as locusts.Locust swarms have been known to destroy 500–1,000 square kilometers of crops, with at least 40 million swarmers for every square kilometer of the swarm. 
Cicadas are somehow clumsy fliers.Locusts can fly at a jet speed of 16-19 km per hour.
Cicadas produce distinct and louder courtship songs to attract females.Locusts create gentle buzzing sounds while they rub their wings on their bodies.
Cicadas are typically harmless to humans.Locusts can be dangerous if they swarm.
Cicadas can live for up to 5 years as nymphs before emerging as adults.Short-horned locusts can only live for 2-3 months, while migratory locusts can live for up to 9 months.
Cicadas are smaller than locusts and have no wings. They can be identified by their external anatomy.Locusts can be identified by their round and smooth abdomen, while female locusts have a pointed or jagged abdomen.
Cicadas can have a wingspan of 1–6 inches (2.5–15 cm). The average wingspan for periodical cicadas is 3 inches (7.62 cm).Male locusts are usually smaller than females, and their wingspan is about 250 mm on average.

What Are the Distinct Similarities Between Cicadas and Locusts?

Cicadas and locusts are very similar in various ways, the most notable being that they both undergo incomplete metamorphosis. This means they have no larval or pupal stages- the young insects simply hatch from eggs as adults.

adult locust

Another similarity is that the adults have very short lifespans; cicadas typically only live for a few weeks, while locusts can survive up to six months. Both insects are also safe to eat, although cicadas are not good for people with seafood allergies.

Finally, both insects produce sounds; male cicadas are much louder and can sing as loud as 100 decibels!

What are the unique events in the cicada’s life cycle?

Cicadas and locusts are both types of insects that belong to the order Hemiptera. Cicadas are exceptional in that they undergo a mass emergence where they emerge from the ground in great numbers.

After mating, cicadas shed their outer skins and devote their adult lives to feeding and laying eggs.

After mating, the female cicada will lay her eggs in woody twigs. Once the eggs hatch, the new cicadas will drop to the ground and burrow into the soil. They will stay there until they mature and emerge as adults years later.

Cicada nymph

Additionally, cicadas sing, producing a high-pitched, droning sound to attract silent female partners.

What’s the difference between cicadas, locusts, and grasshoppers?

Cicadas are a specific type of locust. They are solitary insects that live underground for most of their lives.

However, when conditions are right (usually after heavy rain), the cicada invasion occurs in large numbers. Cicadas can be identified by their loud, high-pitched mating call.

grasshopper- a stage of locusts

To be more specific, locusts are any kind of grasshopper that exhibits gregarious and migratory behavior. This means that they can form massive swarms that can devastate crops.

Grasshoppers, on the other hand, are not known to swarm and typically reside in smaller numbers.

How do locusts and grasshoppers differ in behavior?

Locusts and grasshoppers are both types of insects that belong to the order Orthoptera. Both pests share a lot of similarities, but there are some key differences in their behavior. Locusts undergo a solitary phase and a gregarious phase.

In the solitary phase, they behave like grasshoppers, but during the gregarious phase, they mass in large groups and often bunch up and fly together for long distances.

Locust swarm in the fields

This can cause them to become incredibly destructive as they swarm agricultural areas and eat everything in sight.

Scientists discovered that the brain’s chemical serotonin activity could turn solitary locusts into gregarious, swarming insects.

The serotonin levels trigger the transformation in touch; when the locust numbers increase and physical contact becomes unavoidable, they produce more of this chemical.

Scientific classification of cicadas vs locusts

CicadasLocusts
Cicadas belong to the order Hemipetra.Locust also belongs to the class Hemiptera.
The Homoptera is a suborder of a large and diverse insect group, including cicadas.The Orthoptera is a suborder of Hemiptera. It includes locusts along with grasshoppers. 
They are in the family Cicadidae. This family covers any bug that makes a sound, has prominent eyes, two membranous pairs of wings, and both compound and simple eyes.Locusts are in the family Acrididae. This family includes any short-horned grasshoppers that migrate and swarm in great numbers.

What is the purpose of cicadas?

  • Cicadas are a valuable food source for predators.
  • Their loud singing is also helpful in warning predators of their presence.
  • Cicadas help aerate lawns and enhance groundwater filtration.
  • Cicadas play an important role in the life cycle of their inhabited forests.
  • Not only do they provide food for other animals, but they also decay and enrich the earth with their nutrient-rich droppings. This helps to make the land more fertile and supports the vegetative growth of trees and other plants.

Summary

Cicadas and locusts are two types of insects that are known for their ability to make a lot of noise. They have the common trait of being grasshoppers, but else differ greatly.

Cicadas swarm and descend into a destructive plunge, while locusts swarm but do not descend into a destructive plunge. This is probably due to the attribute that cicadas live in colonies underground, while locusts live solitary lives.

About the author

A biotechnologist by profession and a passionate pest researcher. I have been one of those people who used to run away from cockroaches and rats due to their pesky features, but then we all get that turn in life when we have to face something.