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Foldscope Explores... Cicadas!

It is May 2024 and in South Carolina that means the cicadas are out! The emergence of millions of Brood XIX 13 year periodical cicadas is happening right now. The skies are filled with the sounds of cicada calls, exoskeletons are everywhere, and discarded cicada wings litter the sidewalks.

With all of these specimens available to me, I just had to look at cicadas under my Foldscope 2.0! Read on to find out what I saw!

Figure 1. Picture of cicadas in a tissue culture flask
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)

Brood XIX Cicadas

There are two types of cicada: annual and periodical. Annuals emerge every year and periodicals emerge every 13 or 17 years (these are further divided into broods). The current 13 year cicadas are from Brood XIX. This brood is relatively large, measuring 1.5 inches long!

Their emergence is triggered by the temperature of the soil. When the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit, they crawl out of the soil where they have spent the last 13 years underground.

Figure 2. Cicada Exoskeleton
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)


The first thing a wingless cicada does after crawling aboveground is to climb up a tree and molt. When it emerges from the shed exoskeleton, it has its adult wings. The exoskeleton is made of chitin which is the strong, flexible, and protective outer layer of the cicada. It is interesting that the shed exoskeleton contains evidence of the hairs that cover the cicada’s body!

Figure 3. Picture of the shed exoskeleton viewed under a Foldscope 2.0 at 50X magnification plus 5X zoom on phone
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)


Once the cicada has its wings, it flies up to the top of the tree to look for a mate. Cicadas are not good fliers. Their bodies are large and they can only fly at speeds up to 9 mph. Their 3 inch wingspan wings can take them no further than 500 feet at a time. Cicada wings have large prominent veins that pump hemolymph (insect blood) through the wing and provide structure and support during flight.

Figure 4. Picture of the cicada wing viewed under a Foldscope 2.0 at 50X magnification
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)


The distinctive red color of the Brood XIX cicada comes from a special pigment inside the eye. Cicada eyes are made up of thousands of ommatidia (the individual parts that together make up the compound eye). Ommatidia are hexagonal in shape and can be seen under the Foldscope 2.0.

Figure 5. Picture of the cicada eye viewed under a Foldscope 2.0 at 140X magnification (left) and 340X magnification plus 2X zoom on phone (right)
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)


All of these images were from dry mount slides. I placed the samples on glass slides and secured them with clear tape.

Figure 6. Picture of the slides used for this blog
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)


Have you looked at cicadas under a Foldscope 2.0? Use your Foldscope to dive into the microscopic world and find the beauty that is there waiting for you. Share your microscopic images and thoughts on the Microcosmos. Be sure to tag us on social media when you post the results of your explorations, creations, and discoveries! We love to see how Foldscopers around the world are using their Foldscopes in new and innovative ways!


Figure 7. Picture of cicada exoskeleton (140X plus 5X zoom on phone), wing (50X), and eye (340X plus 5X zoom on phone) viewed under a Foldscope 2.0
(Photo Credit: Holly A. Stuart)


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