Cicadetta kansa in Oklahoma

Photo details: Canon 100mm macro lens on Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/14, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power w/ Sto-Fen diffusers.

Another of the insects that I saw this past June at Four Canyon Preserve in northwestern Oklahoma was this small cicada, Cicadetta kansa. Though not as small as the diminutive Beameria venosa (see North America’s smallest cicada), their barely audible call – a soft buzz – makes them even more difficult to notice.  I only realized what they were after noticing something odd about the small, green “grasshoppers” that flitted in front of me as I walked through the mixed shortgrass prairie.  They didn’t quite fly “right” and landed delicately within the grass rather than crashing into it clumsily.  Even after realizing that they weren’t grasshoppers, it was difficult to say what they were at first due to their wariness and lime green coloration that helped them blend marvelously into their grassy surroundings.  A few sweeps of the net solved that problem, and I discovered what was at the time the smallest and most beautiful cicada I had seen to that point (Beameria venosa took both honors later that month in the Loess Hills of northwestern Missouri).

Despite being the only world-wide genus of cicadas, Cicadetta is represented in the U.S. by only two species—C. kansa and C. calliope.  In addition to its pale green coloration, C. kansa is distinguished from C. calliope by having only 4 or 5 apical cells in the hind wing (6 in C. calliope).  Cicadetta kansa occurs from Texas north to South Dakota, while C. calliope is found from Texas to Florida and northwards to Iowa, Ohio and New Jersey.  Little is known about the biology of Cicadetta kansa; however, presumably it is similar to that of C. calliope, which emerges and lays eggs in late spring.  Eggs hatch by late summer, at which time the nymphs burrow into the ground again begin feeding on the roots of grasses.  This feature of their biology protects them from the negative impacts of managed spring and fall burns, and indeed C. calliope is known to increase in prairies that are managed by such burns.  This is in contrast to other prairie cicadas (genus Tibicen), which overwinter as eggs in the above-ground portion of grasses and, thus, are negatively impacted by fall and spring burns.

A number of websites are dedicated to these charismatic insects; however, Cicada by Andy Hamilton at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes is the most informative and comprehensive that I’ve found.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae

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About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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17 Responses to Cicadetta kansa in Oklahoma

  1. DougT says:

    Nice post and photo. I put a Cicadetta photo on my blog a while back (see here). On BugGuide, Andy Hamilton identified it only to genus, but I’m now pretty sure that it was C. calliope. It was on a nice railroad prairie remnant southwest of Chicago.

    • Thanks, Doug. Yes, based on range and coloration, your Cicadetta would be C. calliope, although usually that species exhibits dark markings on the pronotum. There is a green form in Florida that Andy has listed on his site as a subspecies of C. calliope, so at a minimum it is variable across its range and perhaps represents a complex of sibling species. The fewer number of apical cells in the wing of C. kansa seem to distinguish it well from the “calliope-complex.”

      p.s. I fixed your link.

  2. jason says:

    Good find and beautiful photo! It’s the eye color that really grabs me.

    Once they start getting this small, I have increasing difficulty “in the field” with determining whether it’s a cicada, a leafhopper or a treehopper (the variety and visual overlap down here can be mindbogglingly painful, and I’m a self-taught naturalist with no specialized or official training). Some species are easier to figure out than others, mind you, but I’m usually left with having to take a photo with hope that I can figure it out later.

    • Hi Jason, thank you!

      What I really love about the eye is the “pupil” in the center – makes it seem like it’s looking right at me.

      I have a fond spot in my heart for fulgorimorph hemipterans (how many people have you ever heard say that?!). I did my graduate thesis on leafhoppers, but at the time my true love was treehoppers – they were the first insects I ever really collected in a systematic way. Cicadas and planthoppers followed shortly thereafter, and I still have a hard time resisting them whenever I see a new one. Texas has some great cicadas!

  3. MObugs41 says:

    Great post Ted….What a pretty little cicada. You’ve been very fortunate this year with your tiny cicada discoveries. Just how small is this species? In your picture it looks about the size of a leafhopper…I am assuming they are significantly larger than that. I know you mentioned they are lime green, but on my screen it has a definite yellow tint to it. Perhaps it should be called the Lemon-Lime Cicada?

    • Thanks, Shelly. This guy measures ~20 mm in length (excluding wings) – Beameria venosa is a little smaller at ~16 mm. That’s still bigger than any leafhopper (except in Malaysia, perhaps!).

      The original photo had a lot of yellow in it, which I think was an artifact of the flash. I slightly increased the hue and decreased the saturation in the photo after adjusting the light levels. It still has some yellow in it, but it’s pretty close (on my new flat-screen monitor) to what I remember it looking like in the field.

  4. MObugs41 says:

    It is a lovely picture of a beautiful specimen. I just had to tease you about the coloring…..a one inch Cicada is a tiny cicada for sure. I never did make it to Squaw Creek to look for the Beameria venosa, I hope they will remain in the area next summer.

  5. Very pretty little critter, lovely colour (and great photo!)
    I’ve never been fortunate enough to spot or sweep a cicada in the field…my only personal specimen of a large Tibicen sp. was deposited on my shoe by my pet cat when I was an undergrad.

    • Thanks, TGIQ. I’ve gotten several “gifts” from my cats over the years, but never a cicada. The most memorable was the snout of a mouse – yes, just a snout (from the eyes forward).

  6. troymullens says:

    Great photo and terrific “adventure” story. I always enjoy your style of writing. This would be a new species for me.

    Troy

    PS: thanks for the link. Nice illustrations on Andy’s site.

    • Thanks, Troy (and I really appreciate your comments about my writing!).

      This species should be in your area – just look for what appear to be large leafhoppers or small grasshoppers flitting in front of you in high quality mixed-grass prairie.

  7. Roberta says:

    Very interesting insect and wonderful photograph. We have some small cicadas in northern Arizona that click, but I haven’t been lucky enough to get a photograph of one.

    • Hi Roberta – thanks for the nice comment. There are some great species of cicadas out west – with all the low vegetation, I bet you could get some good photos if you put your mind to it (not that I’m trying to distract you from ants :)).

  8. And here we thought all cicadas were huge! Perhaps we can be forgiven our ignorance since it doesn’t look like either this or Beameria venosa is found in Wisconsin =)

    • You’re forgiven🙂

      Even though they’re small for cicadas, they’re still monstrous compared to nearly all of their closest relatives such as leafhoppers and planthoppers. Yes, cicadas are beasts!

  9. Pingback: Tiny Prairie Cicadas « Exploring the Remnants

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