By Martha Weiss. Photographs may be used with proper accreditation (CC-BY license)
During the night, cicada nymphs dig their way up through the dirt to preform their final molt into adulthood.
Here, a cicada is in the process of molting into adulthood. They begin by cracking open the back of their last nymphal exoskeleton. The cicada begins to emerge. The process of molting is also called ecdysis.
Insects don’t have lungs like humans. They have spiracles (little holes in their exoskeleton) that lead to trachea (tubes that deliver the oxygen to the inside of their body). When insects molt they even shed the lining of their trachea, leaving behind the long white treads you see inside the shell above.
Even once their wings have fully expanded, it will take the cicada 3 days to fully harden their exoskeleton.
The nymph does a powerful sit-up to extricate itself from the old shell. It is soft and pale when it first emerges. While the cicada is in this stage it is called a teneral.
You may notice the yellow wings of the tenerals above. When they they first emerge, the wings are crumpled like a used tissue. These wings slowly expand and unfurl until they become functional. Tenerals can’t fly and are easily caught and eaten by other animals like birds and squirrels.
Within 12 hours, the cicadas take on the black and orange look that you see here. Even though they are now adults, these cicadas are still pretty awkward and often fall or accidentally flip themselves over.
During the emergence, you will notice the shells that the cicadas leave behind after they molt into adulthood. Feel free to pick them up and look at them! Can you see where the cicadas eyes, wings, and legs once were?