Difference Between Cicadas And Locusts

Cicadas Vs Locusts

Locusts and cicadas, are often confused or their names are used interchangeably but the two are different creatures. Both locusts and cicadas are a type of grasshoppers, but cicadas are considered cousins of crickets. Below are some of the major differences between cicadas and locusts. Locusts are a type of grasshopper apart from, their short-horned appearance. Locusts and grasshoppers, and cicadas look almost the same. Unlike cicadas or grasshoppers, locusts have developed a dangerous swarming behaviour that can be devastating to crops. Locusts can damage fields and devastate the lives of people who may rely on those crops. The swarms of desert locusts can get up to about 80 million insects into half of a square mile and the entire swarm can stretch for about 400 square miles. The collective swarming behaviour is known as the gregarious phase and it is stimulated by a desperation for food among the insects.

Cause of Confusion

The confusion between cicadas and locusts can be traced back to the early colonists.  Since the periodical cicadas can only be found in North America, the colonists did not know how to classify the insects. The colonists assumed that large clouds of insects emerging from the ground periodically were swarms of destructive locusts. The two insects share some similarities, plus the names have been improperly used interchangeably for a long time.


There are two types of cicadas, which are the annual cicadas that belong to many insect species, and the periodical cicadas. Both these cicadas are dark, stout insects with very large heads and transparent wings. Periodical cicadas, however, are usually smaller than annual cicadas. Periodical cicadas have red eyes, and annual cicadas have dark eyes. Cicadas, just like locusts and grasshoppers, have three pairs of legs. All of their legs are about the same length unlike those of locusts and grasshoppers. Despite their differences in appearance, periodical cicadas are normally called 17-year locusts.

Immature cicadas spend a lot of their time in the ground before they can emerge for a brief life as an adult. The  eggs hatch, and nymphs, or immature cicadas, show up and burrow into the ground. Annual cicada nymphs can live for one or three years underground, surviving on the juices of plant roots. Periodical cicada nymphs can stay below the ground surface for up to 17 years before they can emerge in great numbers and climb up trees and other vegetation. Emerging cicada nymphs can shed their outer skins and spend their adult lives to mating. However, the male cicadas sing, and produce a high pitched, droning sound, that attracts the silent female partners. The females lay their eggs in woody twigs before they die after mating.

All types of cicadas are members of the Homoptera order of insects. Cicada mouths are designed to eats plants. The mouths of cicada are designed to suck juices from the plant for sustenance. They have stout bodies and their eyes are large, even too large for their big heads. They have wings that can be easily identifiable because the membranes running through them are clear. Periodical cicadas are also typically black or dark in colour.

Periodical Cicadas

Periodical cicadas come out only at a given time. The insects mature underground at depths of to 2 feet or more. There are various types of species of periodical cicadas that emerge at different times. Also these cicadas come out every 13 to 17 years. The adults can come out from the ground on schedule, mainly in the month of May and June but annual cicadas, emerge from the ground every year in the latter parts of the warm season. Although there is a large number of periodical cicadas this may be a bit threatening. However, the risk of plants and trees being destroyed is very small. Most damage occurs when too many eggs are laid on the branches, resulting  in problems for the young trees.

The following are some of the ,major differences between a cicada and a locust. A Cicada is much more similar to an aphid, and  a locust is a short-horned grasshopper.  One of the biggest differences between cicadas and locusts is that, while they can show up in very large numbers when they hatch, cicadas do not swarm the way locusts do. Cicadas do not decimate and consume crops the same way locusts do. Both locusts and cicadas are herbivores, but cicadas are much less destructive when they eat unlike locusts.

Another difference between cicadas and locusts is that cicadas have very small legs. Also, periodical cicadas, the kind that show up from the underground every 13-17 years, can only be found in North America. Swarming locusts have not been found since the Rocky Mountain Locust went extinct in 1902.

The Similarities

When it comes to similarities there are some between these two insects. Both the cicadas and locusts have wings, but locusts tend to fly at a much greater distance. Both of the creatures eat plants and lay eggs in a similar way. The two are both very loud and they usually appear in large groups. Neither cicadas nor locusts are aggressive toward human beings, although it might feel that way when a large group of them flies in your way and you get caught up.  In addition, cicadas are a type of Hemiptera or “True Bug.” Some may think that they are related to crickets, but that is not correct. Cicadas are much larger and they are similar to aphids, which are also in the Hemiptera order.

Locusts on the other hand are a bit different. This name is given to any short-horned grasshopper that migrates and swarms in great numbers. When it comes to size, cicadas are about two inches long and half an inch across but locusts can reach up to four inches long, however some are less than half an inch in length. Another notable difference is that cicadas, when feeding, drink the liquid from the inside of the stems, roots and branches of plants. When it comes to locusts, they eat the leaves and the softer segments of plants, which is why locusts are regarded as so destructive to crops when they swarm in plagues.

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