There has been a lot of media attention in recent weeks to the coming emergence of cicadas in the United States. The insects in the United States emerge in cycles of 13 or 17 years and this year, what is known as the Great Southern Brood, the largest brood known that emerges every 13 years, and the Northern Illinois Brood, which emerges every 17 years, will emerge at the same time.  

The insects will fall from eggs laid in tree branches and burrow into the ground where they mature. Then, when the soil starts to warm up and reaches around 64° Fahrenheit or 18° Celsius, the insects emerge from the ground to start breeding. This will last for a few weeks, and then the adults die.  

Cicadas are found around the world, with more than 3,400 species. There are even some here in southeast Saskatchewan, particularly in the Grasslands National Park, but there are some major differences between the ones found here, and the ones south of the border.  

“There’s actually one species that you can find in southern Saskatchewan – it's called the Canadian cicada – but unlike the cicadas that are going to be emerging in the States, and that’s what pretty much all the news is about, the cicada in Saskatchewan is an annual species, meaning that the adults will be emerging every summer,” explained Dr. Berenice Romero.  

Dr. Romero is an entomologist who works with the Prager Lab at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. She has some first-hand experience studying cicadas and even has a small cicada in resin on her desk.  

So, what exactly does a cicada look like? 

Dr. Romero said the best way to describe it for the average person would be to use the descriptions from her friends who aren’t entomologists.  

“Their descriptions are, basically, it looks like a common housefly, but much, much bigger,” she chuckled. “We’re talking about a two-inch insect, and the only thing that I would add to that is that I could see that (about the comparison with houseflies), and I respect that, but also the mouth parts are a bit different.” 

The entomologist described the mouth of a fly as being a soft, spongy structure, while the cicada has a straw, similar to a mosquito, that it uses to suck up plant matter. 

A cicada on a plantThe cicadas found in Saskatchewan are scientifically known as Okanagana canadensis. They are an annual cicada, and very different from the periodical cicadas found in the eastern United States. (Submitted photo)

The annual emergence of the cicada in Saskatchewan is the more common behaviour for the insect. Throughout the world, only nine species of cicada are known to disappear for years at a time underground and then emerge, and seven of those are in the United States. Another difference between the cicadas found in the U.S. and the ones here in Canada is that the periodical cicadas emerge at the same time in one location, while the annual cicadas are not synchronized.  

Sound is another big difference. A small group of cicadas could sound like the hum of a power line, which is one description of what cicadas in Canada sound like. In the United States, as the millions, billions and even trillions emerge, it has been described by some as being as loud as an airplane.  

Each year, with the emergence of broods in the United States, the area covered by the insect expands ever so slightly. Right now, the closest brood to Saskatchewan is the Northern Illinois Brood that emerges every seventeen years, with some overlap in southern Illinois with the Great Southern Brood. As the insect comes out from under the ground in its cycle in sometimes increasing numbers, the territory they cover expands. This leads to the question, can they reach Saskatchewan? 

“I believe that Saskatchewan is too far northwest,” Dr. Romero explained. But, she didn’t rule it out completely.  

“Maybe in a couple of cycles, and I’m saying many, many years, maybe that could be a possibility,” she noted, adding one other factor to the discussion. “The other thing is that I don’t really know what the predator community looks like, and whether they could potentially establish in Saskatchewan.” 

For those who want to try to catch a glimpse of the Canadian cicada can most likely find them in the southern parts of the province, particularly in the Big Muddy Badlands area. They tend to be most active once the soil reaches a warm enough temperature, emerging in the late spring.