Enter the Southwestern Giant Floodplain Cicada, Tibicen Cultriformis, Cochise County’s largest and heaviest insect (also known as the Grand Western Floodplain Cicada).
My wife and I have no idea of what their life cycle is like (except that the nymphs grow up sucking watery sap from cottonwood trees), but this is our fourth year here and the first time I’ve seen even one of the ungainly yet brightly colored, lacy-winged humongo bugs. Which means nothing. Some of the many western cicada species–one site lists 56 of them–show up every year without us spotting them.
We do know the males sing in the cottonwood trees along the San Pedro River. In fact, we heard them down there near the gate leading into her son’s place the other night. Weren’t sure they were cicadas at the time. After all, there’s a big ol’ power line running right over your head at that point, and they sound electrical-hum enough…kinda sorta.
Last night, our Palominas Tea Party group had gathered to listen to a batch of Palominas Fire Board candiates speak from the podium. The back door to the church (where we meet) was open…and in buzzed a cicada. It whizzed right over to a side table, landed, and posed for pictures.
Can’t beat that.
Later, a second cicada joined the first, zipping in through the same open doorway but landing on the carpet instead of the table.
Nearly everyone has heard of the monster 17-year life cycles of the eastern cicadas, but we didn’t know that much about the Southwestern Giant Floodplain version in Arizona…and still don’t. It’s easy to find all sorts of info on the Apache Cicada online, but the Southwestern Giant?
Not so much. Lots and lots of photos, extremely little text.
We do know they don’t bite, aren’t really considered pests, and were apparently drawn to the lights in the church much like moths or perhaps sinners facing their own mortality and looking for a quick route to salvation.
Our green-winged visitors seemed to have no fear of humans. Their wideset buggy eyeballs looked right at me from a range of three feet or less as I was snapping photos. To take that a step farther, the pastor of the church scooped one up on a piece of clear plastic (like heavy cellophane) and held it to show the rest of us, wings spread.
I snapped a photo.
Back to the specimen on the table. It did seem a tiny bit nervous at the idea of letting me position myself directly in front of its face. Could it be that those light-bar eyeball mounts, set wa-ay out to the sides like that, make it harder for the bug to see what’s right in front of it?
When the featured photo (first one at top of page) was enlarged, an interesting feature of the cicada’s structure became rather noticeable. There appears to be a long, thin rod or tube pointing back toward the table top from what must be the mouth area.
Since cicadas are “true bugs” (meaning they have piercing and sucking mouth parts), it seems likely that’s a cottownwood bark-piercing tube designed to let them get to all that good sap. Yes, it looks rather like an oversized mosquito sticker, doesn’t it? But that makes sense, too.
The mosquito drinks your blood; the Southwestern Giant Floodplain Cicada drinks the tree’s blood.
One thing is clear: Here in Cochise County, Arizona, deep in the Sonoran desert where an outsider might think almost nothing lived…there’s more wildlife than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. It would in my opinion require a serious patch of jungle to beat it for sheer variety and abundance. It will take decades to produce anything close to a comprehensive wildlife photo guide for the area.
And for me, that’s a good thing.