Photographing Cicadas

I love cicadas, I have been trying to learn their songs so I can tell them apart. The problem is, I can almost never find one. They tend to stop singing when you’re nearby. I got lucky this morning and had one on a window, but does anyone have any advice for how to find these elusive little guys so I can get some photos? (Ideally without climbing trees or the like) Most of the cicadas I’ve photographed to date are on their last legs and have fallen from the trees. :(

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If you have a phone you can record them, there are several decent apps for that. They’re often easier to identify by sound than from photos anyway.

In terms of finding them visually, ideally search for ones that sound lower down. Then you can try to triangulate their location by walking around the sound and seeing where it’s loudest.
It may be easier to find them at the beginning or end of their adult lives. They typically emerge as nymphs from the ground in the evenings and moult low on trees, if you see an area with lots of moulted nymph exoskeletons you could try looking there after dusk. If you do find one in the process of moulting, you can keep an eye on it for a couple hours and get photos after it’s hardened. You may find dead or nearly dead adults lying on sidewalks, roads, trails etc. as well.

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The vast majority of my cicada photos were taken at night after they came to a light source. Including a couple of Neotibicen I took last night. Look around street lamps or lit up buildings, ideally near a wooded area where you’ve heard them calling during the day.

Edit: 8 more tonight.

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I don’t necessarily have any advice for finding them other than just digging into the leaves in bushes and trees, but I’ll point out that cicadas are pretty clumsy. They fall out of trees all the time, even when they are healthy. All the insectivores get an easy meal when there are cicadas out.

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A telephoto lens is a big help.

Where I’m working we have a lot of them (I’m in SE Asia). They often stop calling if you get too close, but if you keep a bit of distance and look carefully you’ll often see them sitting on tree limbs or branches. Occasionally they’ll fly to a new location.

With some patience and a decent telephoto lens it’s possible to get good photos, but it does take a bit of work.

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Does anyone know if cicadas respond to playback by moving towards the sound? If so, maybe you could record them, then play their song back to them.

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Yes! I did that when I was a kid with a handheld recorder. Walked around under the trees for who knows how long, letting the sound play at max volume, and eventually had at least one that flew down and landed on my shirt. I still have that cassette tape somewhere.

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Very cool – I’ll have to try that sometime!

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I wish Okanagana did this. @silversea_starsong has some of the best cicada photos of western taxa on iNat. He’d be a good person to ask.

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It takes a ton of patience, but you can sneak up extremely close to a singing cicada if you are super slow, quiet, and do not use jerky movements. Take a couple of minutes to move a foot closer. I have caught them by hand this way, and can use the macro setting on a digital camera.
This observation was done entirely this way, and then very, very slowly replacing the camera with my phone to record the call from the same individual: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/36886081

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In some species the male sings and the female goes to him, in others the male sings and the female lands nearby and starts snapping her wings and then the male approaches her. I’ve read that machinery such as saws will attract the periodical Magicicada species, but also that snapping your fingers will. I guess because of their “safety in numbers” strategy they’re not as worried about not getting eaten or something…

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I used to have a camera that recorded decently, but it just did video. I downloaded an app today that is supposed to record sound via my cell phone but I haven’t tried it yet. I love their sounds, but I want to get to see them…

Oh! I’ve been looking at the wrong time of day, then. I’m usually out morning thru late afternoon (when I’m hearing them) and rarely in the evenings (when the crickets and mosquitoes take center state). I will make an extra effort to go out in the evenings and see if I can find them. :)

I might have to try that! Although, I imagine they’d be happier if I let them sit in the trees in peace. :) Would be interesting to find out if different species will show for the same calls.

Look for grassland cicadas. Easier to find perhaps but perhaps as difficult to approach. Some species are quite colorful

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It needs some practice to find them. Go to a place where only small trees grow, or better: to a field-landscape. Then you just have to look and listen: females don’t make sounds, that’s why it’s so difficult to find them. For example in India, where a lot of cicadas are colored yellow, red blue or green you find them easier…
The males make sounds. Go to this direction, but move slowly and carefully. About one meter in front of the cicada it will stop singing. If the cicada stops singing, don’t make toο abrupt moves, so that it doesn’t fly away. Get closer to the cicada with your hand, very slowly and then catch it.
I hope this will help you understanding how this works.

Regards,
Greek Cicada Project

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I wonder whether playing a cicada call back would attract other cicadas to your player. This could be a very useful tool in finding and photographing cicadas.

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Welcome to the forum!

This is complicated because a lot of species only perch in the same spot for a limited amount of time. So sometimes you want to “rush” forward a bit or it’ll just fly away of its own accord, irrelevant to anyone trying to get close it.

My tactic usually is to just take it slow when I can, but not too slow unless I can tell it is disturbed by me (song becoming interrupted, or stopping entirely). Individuals have different tolerances, sometimes I can walk right up to one, or in other cases they take off from several feet away. It often helps to have an emergence of multiple where you can continually track down individuals until you get one that cooperates.

The only genera I’ve been able to trigger from playback are Platypedia and Clidophleps in the US. In Australia, a few of the “clicking” species will also respond to it. The largely abundant genus in the US Okanagana seems to not care. But in those cases where it does work, in my experience it just triggers the singing, I have not had males or females fly to me yet. It’s still useful though since Clidophleps for one tends to sing only one every 7-15 minutes. So if you are tracking them down from a longer distance, having to stand around and wait all that time is a nightmare. Especially when it takes several sequences to work out where exactly they are.

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I’ve been lucky, or maybe Australian cicadas have been mostly cooperative.

Depends on the species mostly. Some of the Australian ones were utter nightmares for me to track down.

The one I spent the most time tracking down was Pauropsalta mneme. That species has a semi-ambiguous song which is hard to triangulate, and they only stay on the tree for a short time (15 seconds tops), before flying elsewhere in the forest. They do not make sound in flight and they are very sneaky, and won’t sing again for a fair bit. It took me nearly 1 hour and 30 minutes of effort before I got even a glimpse of one. This was a consistent difficulty over the species so it wasn’t just one individual being tricky. This doesn’t even account that they tend to cut their song at any attempt of approach. I honestly felt like I got very lucky even glimpsing this one.

Meanwhile, Arunta interclusa was very simple. I heard it, walked towards it, and right up to it in the sunlight. It didn’t move, or fly away, and was extremely cooperative. Though I’m not sure if this species is always cooperative, since I only encountered the one.