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Tibicen tibicen

For the bird species, see Australian magpie. For the ancient Roman musician, see aulos.

Tibicen tibicen also called the swamp cicada or morning cicada, is a medium-sized, dark-bodied annual cicada widespread across much of the eastern and central United States. This species sings particularly in the morning, hence its common name morning cicada. It used to be widely known as T. chloromerus, but in 2005 the name was changed to T. tibicen because the species was determined to have been described first under this specific epithet.[1] This is the most frequently encountered Tibicen species because males prefer to sing from low branches of trees. There are two subspecies, T. tibicen ssp. tibicen and Tibicen tibicen ssp. australis. The latter is restricted to peninsular Florida and southern Georgia, while the former is found throughout the eastern and southern United States. T. tibicen is readily confused with Tibicen lyricen, which is similar in body coloration. T. tibicen is of no economic importance.


T. tibicen is mostly dark-bodied, with some individuals darker than others, reaching almost black, while some individuals are very clearly patterned and brown. This species has many described races and is subject to individual and regional variability. The venter is heavily pruinose, and it lacks the dark medial stripe present in most Tibicen. The average body length is 33-37 mm. T. tibicen has clear wings with a slightly brownish tint in some populations. It usually has a black pronotal collar, although some populations may have one that is brownish green or entirely green. Pronotal shoulder patches are large and solid green; the mesonotum is mostly black, although some populations may have a patterned mesonotum with green or reddish brown. The nominate race has two distinctive yellow lines adjacent to each other that almost meet at the ends. T. tibicen has a dorsolateral white pruinose spot where the abdomen meets the thorax. The opercula of the males are unusually long in this species, a characteristic that is very distinctive. T. tibicen ssp. australis is usually brightly colored and patterned; individuals are even sometimes mistaken for T. pruinosus because of their coloration and patterning, and barely resemble the nominate race of T. tibicen.

The eggs of this cicada are creamy white, small and oblong, usually measuring about 3 mm in length. The nymphs are creamy white and soft-bodied in the early instars, later hardening and darkening in color in the later instars. They vary in size from 5 to 20 mm; with each molt they will grow larger in size.


T. tibicen is widespread and common across the Midatlantic states and the Great Lakes states. It is very common to abundant across the South. It is moderately abundant in the Midwest and vagrant across eastern prairies. It is found into New England and has been recorded from southern Canada. T. tibicen becomes less common as one moves west, and it is much more common east of the Mississippi River than west. This species has been reported from the following states: AL, AR, CT, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, MA, MS, MO, NE, NJ, NY, NC, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, and WV. It can be locally abundant in preferred areas.

Individuals from Florida and southern Georgia are T. tibicen ssp. australis, the southern dusky-winged cicada. There is a narrow area from southeastern Alabama where T. tibicen individuals are intergrades between this subspecies and the nominate race.


This cicada frequently inhabits deciduous forest and riparian ecosystems, as well as upland meadows and, to a lesser extent, eastern tall-grass prairies. Although the common names of this species include "swamp cicada", it is rarely associated with swampy areas. This species can be found in small trees and low branches of most tree species, and it can also be found in tall grasses and herbaceous plants. It seems to be associated with most ecosystems, and can also be abundant in suburban areas with many trees and moist soils.

The season for this species across most of its range is July to August, however some areas may vary in emergence to decline dates based upon weather and various other environmental factors. Areas from southern Florida that rarely have frost tend to have a longer season for cicadas, which may be active from as early as June to late as January.

Life cycle[edit]

Males of T. tibicen call from branches of trees to females. The males prefer to sing from the tips of branches. T. tibicen prefers to call in the morning from 8 a.m. to noon, with sporadic choruses throughout the day. Males often form large, competitive singing aggregations to woo a female. The call of T. tibicen is a loud rapid chattering, starting off as a syrupy, slow whine, rising to a crescendo, and ending with a rapid chatter. The call lasts 10-15 seconds, making it shorter than the call of other species of Tibicen cicadas. After finishing his song, the male waits a few seconds for a response from the female. She will click her wings together to respond to him. If there is no response, the male flies away to search for a new mate. After mating the female will lay her eggs in a nearby dead tree branch, using her ovipositor to slit the branch and lay her eggs. A single female may lay as many as 100 eggs, though usually it is less. The eggs will hatch within about 2 weeks, and the small, soft-bodied nymphs fall to the ground and burrow. They will go through five instars to reach adulthood. As nymphs they feed on sap that comes from the roots of trees. The nymphal stage requires about 3-5 years. When the nymphs have reached their last instar, they will emerge when the weather warms in spring and will molt for the last time. The newly emerged adult cicadas are a yellowish-white color and soft-bodied, at this stage they are said to be teneral, or have not yet developed their full color. The adults will dry overnight and fly away by dawn, to rest in a tree and continue the cycle over again. Their brown, dry skins (exuviae) are left behind on tree trunks and fences, and commonly seen by the public. Annual cicadas have generations that overlap, and individuals from the same generation may emerge in different years. Their emergence is not synchronized; therefore, they emerge annually. Periodical cicadas, also called seventeen-year cicadas, have synchronized emergences; therefore, they emerge periodically.


Adults of T. tibicen feed on sap from trees using their sucking, piercing mouth parts. They are not host specific. As nymphs, they feed on sap from the roots of all trees.

Natural predators[edit]

T. tibicen have many predators because of their relatively few defenses. Common predators include squirrels, raccoons, opossums, bobcats, coyotes, bats, domestic cats and dogs, birds, and even certain snakes. Bird predators include blue jays, house sparrows, common grackles, American robins, American crows, northern cardinals, and black-capped chickadees. Cicada killer wasps frequently attack T. tibicen cicadas. The female searches for a cicada by sight, scanning trees and vegetation with its keen eye. After locating a cicada, the wasp will sting the cicada, paralyzing it. She will then drag the paralyzed cicada up a tree or post and fly away with it back to her nest. The wasp will place the cicada in an underground nest 3–6 inches deep and lay her eggs in the nest. She then closes it with dirt and leaves. After a few days the larvae will hatch and feed on the cicada, emerging the following spring as adults. There is usually one generation of wasps a year. There are also numerous flies that are parasitoids of adult T. tibicen, including one species of tachinid fly and one species of flesh fly. The female flies have enlarged hearing structures used to detect the call of male cicadas. When a cicada is located the female lands stealthily on the cicada and lays 1–15 eggs. The eggs hatch within a couple of days and the larvae burrow quickly into the cicada, where they feed, sometimes eating the insect completely and causing its death.


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