What Do Cicadas Eat? All You Need To Know

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It might be time that you start hearing the Houdinis of the insect world as you sit on your porch to enjoy a cup of hot coffee. These insects are called cicadas, and their absurd vocalizations typically characterize them.

But, the presence of these insects that disappear for years altogether might lead you to ask what do cicadas eat! I mean, it must be fascinating to understand when these insects eat or even what they eat when they’ve gone underground (quite literally)!

Therefore, keep reading this article to understand what these insects eat and how they do so!

What are cicadas?

what do cicadas eat

Cicadas are a type of insect that is found all over the world. They are distinguishable by their loud clicking and buzzing noise and their unique appearance. Cicadas can be found in trees and bushes, and they eat a variety of things, including sap, fruit, and other insects.

All in all, there are over three thousand species of cicadas that scientists have been able to identify to date. What makes the cicada an interesting insect to study is the fact that these insects simply disappear from the mass for as long as 17 years!

But more specifically, there are two types of cicadas- annual and periodical. Annual cicadas emerge every year, while periodical cicadas emerge at different intervals. Typically, these intervals are either 13 years or 17 years long.

Annual cicadas are generally identified by their green bodies and contrasting large black eyes. On the other hand, periodical cicadas can be identified by their brown or dull orange bodies that are paired with red and bulging eyes!

Everything about the life cycle and eggs of a cicada!

Cicadas undergo incomplete metamorphosis, which means that they do not go through a pupal stage. Instead, the nymphs hatch from eggs and look very similar to the adults. They will then shed their skin (molting) several times before becoming an adult.

Interestingly, after about 6-10 weeks, the nymphs hatch out of the eggs and migrate underground. There, they will feed on sap from tree roots for about four years until they mature into adults.

The nymphs of the annual cicada can take 2 to 5 years before they become adults, whereas the periodical cicadas’ nymphs will take 13 to 17 years. Cicadas go through a life cycle that is divided into four stages: egg, nymph, adult, and reproductive.

The female cicada will lay her eggs in tree bark or on other surfaces close to trees during the egg stage. The nymphs emerge from their eggs and burrow into the ground, where they will feed on plant roots for 2 to 5 years.

Once they reach adulthood, cicadas will shed their skins and mate. The female cicada will then lay her eggs, and the cycle repeats itself. When cicadas reach maturity, they mate. The female cicada will then lay her eggs on tree branches, fence posts, and other objects.

What do cicadas eat?

Cicadas eat the xylem from plants.

Now, we come onto the looming question you wanted to answer when you clicked on the link to this article! What do cicadas eat?

Cicadas are herbivores that feed on sap and other juices from trees and shrubs. Cicadas are unique in that they feed on the xylem, which is a sap-like fluid that circulates in the veins of plants.

This type of food is similar to nectar in bees but more like herbivores for locusts. Now, it is worth mentioning at this juncture that the feeding habits of cicadas are often detrimental to the growth and development of the plant they are feeding on. Not by a lot, but enough to be mentioned.

That said, cicadas are still not nearly as destructive as locusts. Cicadas will only target the sap at specific times in their lifecycles and will generally restrict themselves to the xylem in the extremities of a plant or a tree!

How do cicadas hunt or forage for their meals?

Cicadas use their proboscis to suck sap out of a plant.

Cicadas have five eyes that they use to help them hunt and forage for food. They are able to see movement from a distance and can track their prey effectively. In fact, the eyes of a cicada are dubbed as compound eyes.

Compound eyes are composed of many optical units called ommatidia. These parts work together to form a single image that is sharper and has more detail than an image that a human with just one eye would see.

Cicadas have some of the largest compound eyes in the insect world, and this allows them to see their prey very well as they hunt or forage for food.

Cicadas have more than one way of finding food. It’s not entirely clear if they rely solely on their sight or hearing to find food, but smell likely plays a larger role in the search process.

The fact that cicadae are known for their vocalizations also means that these insects can hear extremely well and communicate with each other quite effectively!

When do cicadas generally eat xylem from the plants?

Cicadas are insects that generally feed on the xylem, which is the woody tissue of plants. They typically eat this during the daytime, when they are most active.

Though most cicadas are diurnal, feeding during the day, some species are known to be nocturnal insects and will thus be found to be active at night. Therefore, you probably won’t have to worry about cicada noises keeping you awake when you’re trying to slip into your dreams at night!

How often do cicadas feed on xylem?

The frequency with which cicadas eat is inversely proportional to their growth. That said, their eating is heavily dependent on what stage of their life cycle they are in.

Cicadas go through a life cycle where they feed on xylem, or sap, from trees. This is an important part of their development.

However, as they get older, they don’t need to feed as often and eventually stop feeding altogether.

While adult cicadas spend most of their time mating, they also feed on xylem sap sparingly, as and when they need it.

What animals prey on cicadae?

Lizards prey on cicadae

Cicadas are preyed upon by a variety of animals, including birds, lizards, spiders, and rodents. Some animals eat the cicadas whole, while others bite off the heads or eat the wings first.

Even human beings in many parts of the world eat cicadas owing to their flavor resembling shellfish. Additionally, cicadas are actually quite nutritious when consumed properly!

Even though cicadas are winged insects that have the ability to fly, they make for easy prey simply because they are not adept at flying like other insects. In fact, their bulky bodies also make them very ungainly when they do end up taking flight.

What do baby cicadas eat or feed on?

Cicadas go through several life cycles before becoming adults. The first stage is the egg stage, followed by the nymph stage, and finally the adult stage. During the nymph stage, cicadas feed on tree sap.

Once they reach the last stage in their life cycle, they can feed on a variety of things, including fruits, leaves, and other insects.

Nymph cicadas, which are the baby versions of cicadas, eat the same things as adults. However, they target smaller roots and twigs instead of larger ones. This helps them to avoid becoming prey and allows them to grow into adulthood.

As cicadas grow, they move on to larger roots until they emerge as adults and target the twigs and branches of trees. Cicadas typically eat the sap from these plants; however, they also consume other unlucky insects to cross their path.

What do cicadas eat when they are underground?

When cicadas disappear underground for months or even years altogether, their main source of sustenance is the xylem or sap from the roots of the trees and plants around them. Using their probosci’s appendage, these insects dig into the roots and suck the sap out.

What do cicadas eat when they are above the surface of the earth?

When cicadas finally emerge from the ground, they prefer to source their xylem from trees and twigs around them. Typically, trees like the maple tree, willow tree, the oak tree are the main sources of food for cicadas.

However, you must remember that it is almost entirely an adult when a cicada comes out of the ground. And, as an adult, a cicada spends the majority of its time engaging in procreation, not eating or feeding on the sap from trees!

When they are underground, they are still developing into adults. That is why they need to consume large amounts of food. However, that is not the case when they are already adults!

Can you keep a cicada as a pet insect?

You must create the ideal environment for a pet cicada.

Cicadas can be kept as pets, and they are interesting insects to watch. They are not difficult to care for but do require some basic supplies, including a large jar or vase with a screen on the top, water, and food. Cicadas will eat most types of food but should have a high protein diet.

In order to keep cicadas as pets, you need to have a lot of knowledge about their lifecycle and needs. Thankfully, you have this article at your disposal just for that!

The fact is that cicada eggs are very delicate and must be handled with care. The hatching process is also very sensitive, and if done incorrectly, the cicadas will not survive.

While cicadas can be kept as pets, it is much easier to keep adults as pets than it is to raise them from eggs. Adult cicadas do not require a lot of care and can survive on a variety of food sources. If you are looking to keep cicadas as pets, make sure you have the time and resources necessary to properly care for them.

I should tell you that keeping cicadas may not be the best idea because these insects spend the larger part of their lives below the surface of the ground. Therefore, you can’t expect much interaction with these insects.

What should you feed your cicada in captivity?

When keeping cicadas in captivity, providing them with a host plant is important. This will give them the nutrition they need to survive.

If you are keeping a cicada in captivity, choosing the right host plant is important. The cicada will feed on the sap of the plant and can cause damage if the wrong one is chosen.

Make sure to research what type of cicada you have and find a compatible host plant. Bear in mind that the host plant that you choose should be one capable of surviving inside a terrarium.

When you have captured a cicada, it is important to keep it fed with twigs from the host plant that you have selected. You can do this by providing it with fresh twigs every day.

If you don’t replace the twig, the cicada will eventually die. You can also put a branch from an oak tree into a bottle, block the bottle’s mouth after filling it with water and place that in the terrarium.

Will cicadae harm the plants in your garden?

Cicadas are not harmful to garden plants. In fact, they may even help the plants by aerating the soil. Cicadas will sip sap from trees for hydration, but they do not eat the leaves or damage the plant in any way.

Can humans eat cicadas?

Yes, humans can eat cicadas. In fact, cicadas are enjoyed as a nutritious delicacy by humans in many parts of the world! You can either boil these insects or prepare them by frying or roasting them!

However, you should be mindful of removing certain body parts that don’t add any taste element when you prepare them, such as the wings.


To sum this entire article up in a few short words, cicadas eat the xylem from plants by sucking it out of the root or twigs of a plant using their probosci!

Further, it is worthwhile to remember that as a cicada grows older, it reduces the amount of food it consumes. When it is young, it must eat plentifully to ensure a healthy development!

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.