As a boy on the U.S. East Coast, I remember one year when cicadas emerged from underground and filled the forests and fields with their deafening chorus. In that part of the country, they’re on a seventeen year cycle, so it doesn’t happen very often. Here in Northern California, we also have cicadas — about 18 species in the genus Platypedia — and they’re on a shorter cycle, just four or five years. Late this spring they emerged and we found them in two places, Briones Regional Park and Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills.
Platypedia males don’t have the tymbals that larger cicadas have in their abdomen to make that deafening chorus. But they still “sing” by clicking their wings together to attract their mates. Listen for them in the oak-buckeye forest and creep up on the trees they’re in. It ain’t easy to spot them, as they have good eyes and move around to the other side of their branch when they see you watching them.
Cicadas live most of their lives underground as nymphs, just as dragonflies, the Top Gun pilots of the insect world, spend a long time underwater as larvae before they emerge as flashy, colorful adults. Hunt around under the trees in our local forests and you may find the cast-off skins of the cicada nymphs, left behind as they emerged and took flight.
Female Platypedia lay their eggs in the bark of local trees and shrubs, like oak, willow or madrone. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs drop to the ground, burrow in, and the cycle begins again.