April 2022

Mini cicada, mass emergence

Could you identify this tiny cicada that is hatching in its thousands, near Rockhampton?

Answer

Tiny Parnkalla muelleri nymphal case. Image: G. Robinson. Newly emerged Parnkalla muelleri adult sitting on its nymphal case.
Image: G. Robinson.
Adult Parnkalla muelleri ready to take flight. Image: G. Robinson. Cicadas great and small: Macrotristria sp. (left) and Tamasa sp. (right).
Image: S. Wightley

Fabulous images shine a light on an amazing aspect of this insect’s life cycle. The cicada in your image is Parnkalla muelleri, sometimes called Yellow Sugarcane Cicada or Grass Faeire. For such a tiny creature they are known to make a grand entrance, emerging in their thousands following rain between October and March. As the common name suggests this species lives in areas with pasture grasses and sugarcane.

As with all cicadas, they live their juvenile life as a nymph underground feeding on the sap of plant roots. When they are ready to emerge as adults, they dig themselves out of the ground with their robust hooked front legs and climb up a vertical surface, in the case of this species a blade of grass. They then grip the grass with their hind legs to anchor themselves and climb out of their nymphal case through a split that forms along the back. The newly emerged adult has wings but will sit on the nymph case for a short while to allow its body and wings to harden sufficiently. The adults only live for around two weeks during which time they will join the choir of other cicadas seeking out a mate. When thousands are singing it can become a very piercing, high pitched continuous buzz. The droning calls of cicadas are one of the most recognisable sounds of the Australian summer.

Australia is home to over 200 species of cicada - from the tiny species you photographed, up to the largest: Thopha saccate (Double Drummer), the females of which can grow over 5cm long. Other species that may be found (or heard) around Queensland include Henicopsaltria eydouxii (Razor Grinder), Psaltoda claripennis (Clanger), Cyclochilae australasiae (Greengrocer), and the Cystosoma saundersii (Bladder Cicada) to name just a few. A comprehensive guide to Australia’s cicadas, including distribution and sound recordings of different species, can be found here.

Want to know more? To download our factsheet on cicadas, click here. We also offer a free information service through our Discovery Centre seven days per week, with experts ready to answer your questions. You can phone, write, contact us via our website or pop in. If we don’t know the answer we will try to find out for you.




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