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Cicadas pee in trees. And they urinate a lot, according to a new study.

Cicada emergence imminent in Chicago as ground temperature hits 64 degrees

Cicada emergence imminent in Chicago as ground temperature hits 64 degrees


As if sleeping in the dirt for 17 years wasn’t strange enough, cicadas have another bizarre habit: They pee like crazy, up to 10 feet per second. The news comes as it is prepares to emerge in the Chicago areaone of the most populated areas of this year’s cicadas map.

A study attributed to two authors at the Georgia Institute of Technology – titled “Unifying Fluidic Excretion Across Life From Cigadas to Elephants” – posits that cicadas weighing just a few grams “possess the ability to eject fluids through remarkably small orifices.” .

Scientists who study such things have discovered that cicadas urinate in a jet stream because they consume an incredible volume of fluid.

How much do cicadas pee?

In their study, M. Saad Bhamla and Elio Challita write that cicadas have a unique digestive system that allows them to process tree sap at a rate of 300 times their body weight.

Other insects that feed in a similar manner urinate in the form of droplets. Cicadas, on the other hand, are voracious eaters, consuming large quantities of nutrient-poor “xylem sap.”

“This jet ability allows efficient processing of their low-xylem sap diet and places them as the smallest animals known to form high-velocity jets in a diet dominated by surface tension,” the authors wrote.

And it’s not easy to get into the xylem, which doesn’t just flow when an insect enters it because it’s under negative pressure. The cicada can obtain the liquid because its oversized head is equipped with a pump, said Carrie Deans, an entomologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

They use their proboscis like a small straw — the width of a hair — with the pump sucking up the liquid, said Saad Bhamla, a professor of biophysics at Georgia Tech. They spend almost their entire lives drinking, year after year.

“It’s a tough way to make a living,” Deans said.

A cicada is seen Thursday, April 25, 2024 in Evans, Georgia.

Lisa J. Adams Wagner/AP

Be prepared to get a little wet

Researchers said cicadas are known to use their jet-stream pee to spray intruders. People have reported being hit by the little buggers’ urine.

In the study, cicadas were clearly king, peeing two to three times louder and faster than elephants and humans. He couldn’t observe the periodical cicadas that feed and pee underground, but he used video to record and measure the flow of their Amazonian cousins, which reached about 10 feet per second.

They have a muscle that pushes waste through a small hole like a jet, Bhamla explained. He said he learned about this when in the Amazon he came across a tree that locals called the “crying tree” because the liquid flowed downward, as if the plant was crying. It was cicada pee.

“You walk through a forest where they’re actively singing on a hot sunny day. It sounds like it’s raining,” said John Cooley, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut. It’s their honeydew or waste that comes out of the back end… It’s called cicada rain.

So, as billions of cicadas emerge across Illinois, prepare to get a little wet.

Where will cicadas emerge in 2024?

Two broods of cicadas are emerging at the same time this year, meaning the United States will see more cicadas than usual. The main broods are Brood XIX, which comes out every 13 years, and Brood XIII, which comes out every 17 years. These two broods are expected to hatch in various locations across Illinois during this cycle.

Because they depend on temperature, their emergence can vary depending on location. In 2024, they are expected in May or early June, according to Ken Johnson, a horticulture professor at the University of Illinois.

Once hatched, cicadas generally live only for a certain number of weeks. They spend the majority of their time reproducing.


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