The truth about the ‘locust’ shells

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How many of you have been outside in the yard, doing that dreadful yard work, and came across the empty shell of a locust?

Most everyone in Louisiana calls them locusts, but the real name is cicada. The adult cicada ranges from 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in length and only lives for several weeks. The Cicada has two large red eyes that look like they are made up of many small eyes. Between the two large eyes are three simple eyes.

The female lays her eggs on the underside of a tree branch. She will lay 24-28 eggs and then move on to another branch and do the same thing. She will repeat this until she has laid about 500 eggs. It then takes about six weeks for the young to hatch. These insects will fall to the ground and bury themselves about two feet into the ground. They then bite into the roots of the tree and suck the sap from the root after some changes take place. In the spring and summer they come out of the ground and climb the tree, taking hold on the bark. Their shell splits, and the adult cicada emerges with its wings. It will take a couple of days for the wings to open and dry.

I am also sure you have heard the adult male make its calling sound to the adult female. Only the adult male makes the noise. The Greeks and the Romans would catch the cicada and keep them in cages so they could hear them make the noise, which they considered musical entertainment.

In other parts of the United States, there is a cicada that lives in the ground for as long as 17 years. So the next time you pick up an empty shell you will have a little more knowledge about the cicada.

The Louisiana Treasures Museum has several adult cicadas on display inside the museum. For more information or hours of operation call Wayne Norwood at 225-294-8352. Tours are also available upon request.

Wayne Norwood is a lieutenant with the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Department and owner and operator of the Louisiana Treasures Museum.