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Friday, Nov. 22, 2002


Oily cicada

* Japanese name: Abura zemi
* Scientific name: Graptopsaltria nigrofuscata
* Description: The body length of this large cicada is between 32-40 mm as an adult. Like any true bug, the wings are held over the body and form an upside-down V-shape. The mottled wings look like they have a coating of oil -- hence the name. They extend behind the body, making the total length of the insect up to 60 mm. It has a black-brown head and abdomen, and green veins on the wings. The song of the oily cicada (made only by the males) is more familiar than its appearance, however: a piercing screech that winds up stronger and stronger.
* Where to find them: This is a common and popular cicada in Japan, found on trees in fields, forests and mountainous areas, from July to September. This species is more common in eastern Japan, while another (Cryptotympana facialis) is more common in western Japan. Oily cicadas are also seen -- but more often heard -- in towns and cities, including Tokyo. There are three life stages: egg, nymph and adult. Eggs are laid into holes cut into branches (egg-laying can cause damage to the trees), and when they hatch, the nymphs (which look like wingless adults) fall to the ground and dig themselves in.
* Food: Like all true bugs, cicadas have piercing mouthparts. They use these to penetrate tree trunks and drink the sap within. The nymphs use similar mouthparts to drink the liquid from tree roots.
* Special features: Although the adults only live for a few weeks, the nymphs live underground for years, passing through five nymphal stages. The empty shell of the final nymphal stage can often be found on tree trunks. The long nymphal stage -- up to six years in this species -- makes cicadas very long-lived for insects. In fact the longest living insect of all is the periodic cicada, which emerges in large broods in the southern United States after 17 years as a nymph. Because of its unpredictable emergence en masse, the periodic cicada has almost no predators and can cause extensive damage to trees.

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