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When a Cricket is not a Cricket: Cicadas in Oregon

As posted on the Nature of Portland blog:

I love the sound of crickets in the evening.  They always remind me of summers where I grew up in North Carolina.  It seems like we had more crickets there, and where my grandparents lived in the mid-west, than we do here in western Oregon (or should I say HEAR in western Oregon?). I don't know if that's true, but it seems like that to me.

Late last summer I had a tree cricket in my yard, happily chirping his little tune every night.  I was glad to have him move in because I've never heard a cricket right here in my yard, which is in a fairly urban area.  I sat on the patio many evenings over several weeks listening to his song, which was eventually joined by another.

So I was excited when I heard chirping again yesterday afternoon, but I thought it was a little early in the day for a tree cricket to be singing.  I went in search of the chirping's source, which was pretty high up in a Cascara tree, and found... a cicada?! 

Cicada (probably Okanagana rimosa) in a Cascara tree

 I've seen cicadas by the thousands when visiting my grandparents in Illinois and Missouri, but they were bigger and greener.  And I've never seen or heard one in Oregon. 

Cicada (probably Okanagana rimosa) in a Cascara tree

Having spent my fair share of time outdoors in Western and Central Oregon, I probably would have said we don't have cicadas here.  That's why I grabbed my camera as fast as I could, and snapped these pictures.  They're not great because it was about 10 feet up the tree, and this was the only angle I could get.

After I got the photos I sat down to do a little research, to see if there really were cicadas in Oregon, or if this was just a wayward traveler blown in by some freak wind.  I was somewhat surprised to read that there really are cicadas in Oregon.

A local biologist, named Max, wrote on his blog (Apartment Biology) that the cicadas found in Oregon "are smaller, emerge in lower densities, and are not as loud as the ones found in the southern and eastern parts of the country."  He reported hearing many cicadas - most likely of the genus Okanagana - at Shute Park in Hillsboro.  He also found their exuvia (shed exoskelotons) on the trunks of the conifers in the park.

I looked around for my visitor's exoskeleton, but didn't find anything.  I think he must have flown into my yard.  And soon enough after I took the photos, he flew away - probably in search of a better cicada social scene.

While researching cicadas in Oregon, I ran across a great site called Cicada Mania.  Everything you've ever wanted to know about cicadas, plus lots of photos, videos and even sound clips of different cicada songs.  After tweeting a photo of my cicada to their Twitter account (@cicadamania), I learned that we have 32 species of cicadas in Oregon, all belonging to the Okanagana, Platypedia, or Neoplatypedia genus.  Judging from the limited view of my cicada, they thought it was probably Okanagana rimosa, sometimes called Say's Cicada.  


Here are some interesting cicada facts, from Wikipedia:

  • Cicadas are insects in the order Hemiptera.
  • About 2,500 species of cicada have been described, and many remain to be described. 
  • Cicadas are related to leafhoppers and spittlebugs, but NOT locusts.
  • Cicadas do not bite or sting in a true sense, but may mistake a person's arm or other part of their body for a tree or plant limb and attempt to feed (only if allowed to rest on a person's body for an extended amount of time.)
  • Many people around the world regularly eat cicadas. 
  • Cicadas have three small eyes, or ocelli, located on the top of the head between the two large eyes.
  • The male cicada has loud noisemakers called "tymbals", their song is not created by structures rubbing together, as in crickets.
  • Some cicadas produce sounds up to 120 dB- loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans should the cicada sing just outside the listener's ear. 
  • Cicadas live underground as nymphs for most of their lives, emerging in the final nymphal instar, and molting one last time to become adults.
  • After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig, and into these she deposits her eggs.  When the eggs hatch, the newly hatched nymphs drop to the ground, where they burrow.
  • Most cicadas go through a life cycle that lasts from two to five years. Some species have much longer life cycles.

Wikipedia has much more cicada information, including cicada symbolism and culinary use, and even a time-lapse clip of an adult cicada emerging from its molted exoskeleton.

So how about it - has anyone else seen cicadas in Portland or other parts of Oregon?

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Comment by Lorri E. on July 28, 2013 at 9:27am

Nice post.  I miss the sound of crickets from my childhood, too.  Crickets and frogs--neither of which frequent my yard which is smack in the middle of an urban city neighborhood.

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