The loud and often shrill singing of cicadas – a sound synonymous with summer – makes them one of New Zealand's most familiar insects. Cicadas belong to the insect order Hemiptera, a group with piercing and sucking mouthparts. It also includes insects such as aphids, scales, plant hoppers and spittle bugs.
Cicadas are common throughout the warmer parts of the world, particularly the tropics.
Cicadas have broad, blunt heads with prominent compound eyes, a tapering body, four large membranous wings and six small legs. They should not be confused with those other insect songsters, the grasshoppers, locusts and crickets, which may be identified by their large, jumping, hind legs.
New Zealand cicada species
The New Zealand cicada fauna consists of 42 species and subspecies in five genera, although additional species are yet to be formally described. All are unique to New Zealand.
The largest is the chorus cicada (Amphipsalta zelandica), with a wingspan of 80 millimetres, and the smallest are species of Maoricicada, with a wingspan of around 29 millimetres and a body length of 14 millimetres. The most closely related species are found in Australia, Norfolk Island and New Caledonia. Studies show that the New Zealand fauna came about from several invasions across the Tasman Sea from Australia and perhaps New Caledonia. They arrived within the last 11 million years, well after New Zealand became isolated after separating from Australia.
Habitats and distribution
In New Zealand, cicadas are found in a variety of habitats, including tall forest, scrub, grasslands, swamps, riverbeds and sand dunes. Their distribution extends from the coast up to the mountains. Species such as the chorus cicada and the clapping cicada (Amphipsalta cingulata) are often found in towns and cities, where they perch on fences, buildings and lamp posts. In contrast, some Maoricicada species are restricted to rocky mountain tops. They are the only cicadas known that live in the high alpine zone. Other species in the same genus uniquely inhabit stony riverbeds.