Aug 15 2013
Birds aren’t the only critters who molt in the summer. Cicada nymphs dig upward from their lives underground (some live underground for 17 years), then climb up high and pick locations to molt into their winged adult form.
A week ago Kim Getz sent me photos of a cicada her family encountered while camping in Clear Creek State Park. The nymph had decided to molt while hanging on their clothesline. By the time they noticed, it had already emerged from its exoskeleton and was clinging to it, waiting for its wings to expand and its body to harden.
Time passed. Its wings became longer. Not quite ready though.
Kim and her family watched for an hour but the cicada had still not turned dark (and hardened) though it moved to a tree trunk.
Molting is a long and vulnerable process for cicadas. During the two hours it takes to become a full fledged adult they are soft and edible. In China there are recipes for stir-fried cicadas though I am unlikely to try them.
To see the whole process in a matter of seconds, watch the animation below by T. Nathan Mundhenk of a cicada molting in Ohio. The photos were taken at 1 minute intervals for about two hours. To make the action move quickly he omitted 30 minutes while the cicada rested.
(photos by Kim Getz, animation by T. Nathan Mundhenk via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the animation to see the full description)