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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Cicada versus Locust

Someone asked me what the difference is between a cicada and a locust. Initially I was surprised by the question, as I have always seen them to be two completely different species of insects, however, it seems that many people refer to cicadas as locusts.

Since there is obviously some question about what a Locust is let's first settle that. A locust is a type of grasshopper, more specifically, a locust is a short horned grasshopper. A long horned grasshopper is known as a katydid or, more commonly, just a grasshopper.

In parts of Australia, and the USA, cicadas are often known as locusts, however, a cicada is an entirely different type of insect than the locust or the grasshopper. The cicada is related to the aphid and comes in two varieties; the annual and the periodical cicada. The annual cicada has a lifecycle which repeats annually, i.e. they breed and hatch once per year. The periodical cicada may have either a 17 or 13 year lifecycle and spend the time between breeding buried in the ground until billions of individuals hatch in unison. This gives rise to the name thirteen year locust and seventeen year locust.

The confusion over what a cicada is seems due to the possibility that when Christians settled in the Americas the periodical emergence of billions of large ravenous vegetation eating chirping insects drew parallels with the biblical stories about plagues of locusts and consequently the cicadas were referred to as locusts. The periodical cicada uses the "safety in numbers" survival strategy and each brood hatches in such large numbers that they simply cannot all be eaten by predators so it is easy to understand how people viewed their appearance as a plague.

Rather than attempting to explain the difference between a cicada and a locust I will direct you to glance at a couple of cicada pictures:

Books about cicadas on amazon

Images of cicadas on flickr
Images of cicadas on google images

Then contrast those images with a couple of locust pictures:

Books about locusts on amazon
Images of locusts on flickr
images of locusts on google images

Did you know that some people call cicadas locusts?

I hope that that was as fascinating for you as it was for me, if you have any comments please let me know and if you have any other questions which you'd like me to answer for free please send them to Ben Dash at


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow - I thought that Cicadas were Locusts, thanks for the great info!

9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How are locusts different from grasshoppers then?

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks! You just settled a bet I had. I lost. :(

8:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw a special on the Discovery Channel, saying that this is the year that Locust's are to hatch and come out and feed. Are you wrong or is Discovery Channel wrong? A co-worker and I are debating this and have for a while.


10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Images might not be much help as about half the pictures of Locusts are of Cicadas.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Ben Dash said...

Haha oh well, maybe one day most of the images of Locusts will actually be Locusts; we can only hope!

10:19 PM  
Blogger Katy said...

I was debating this with my family over the weekend - thanks!

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very helpful info - thank you!

9:45 PM  
Blogger misty said...

theses are pics of locust shells, you are telling me these are grasshoppers?

8:00 AM  
Blogger {Jessi James} said...

I'm from the South. Growing up locust and cicadas were one in the same. =)

4:39 PM  
Blogger gypsyone41 said...

Okay...when looking @ the pictures on GOOGLE, what I know to be Locust are actually Cicadas. Are they right? Have we all been WRONG?

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do both make the noise??? Sounds like the noise comes from the trees not the ground!

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The things with wings and make the noise in the trees are Cicadas, I thought they were Locusts all my life, but I was wrong. It is odd how almost an entire country thought that Cicadas were Locusts. lol, rather funny. Either way Cicadas are ugly, and annoying. What about the plagues in the Bible where the Locusts blacken the sky and devour everything or something like that, is it actually Cicadas, is the Bible wrong to, or do these Locusts just jump really high? :)

12:32 AM  
Blogger carol said...

Are Cicadas calling for the rain? Thats what I heard. We were in a dry spell for a while and they were real loud every night. We had two days of rain and all is silent now.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Christina Meyers said...

Locusts are grasshoppers and yes your bible is wrong.

7:57 PM  
Blogger GuildWars2Items said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:19 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Albright said...

Which one would be in my area (Memphis, TN)? These shed exoskeleton s and make loud noises?

8:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awaiting the V brood 17 year cicada now in northern WV.

1:53 AM  

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