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Desert Diary



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To many people in the Chihuahuan Desert, the loud buzz of the cicada signals the real beginning of summer. The young—the nymphs—live deep underground, feeding on the root juices of trees and shrubs. Depending on the species, anywhere from 1 to 17 years are passed underground, but eventually the nymph burrows to the surface. Climbing the nearest trunk, it clings tightly to the bark. Splitting its outer casing along the back, the winged adult emerges, leaving the translucent ghost of its past behind—still clutching the bark as if reluctant to admit its time has passed.

Energized by the heat of the day, males advertise their machismo to willing females by their penetrating call. Paired membranes called tymbals, located on the abdomen, vibrate rapidly to produce the sound, different for each species. Juices sucked from plants supply the energy to call, to mate, to produce fertile eggs, which the female deposits into protective slits cut into twigs and stems. On hatching, the nymphs drop to the ground and burrow deep to start the cycle over. pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.


Drawing of Cicada

An adult cicada (after Lutz, 1921).



Web Resources

Michigan cicadas--brief overview of cicadas, pictures, songs

Kids Stuff

Desert USA

Hilton Pond Center, good pictues.