What is a "Locust?"

It's the second half of summer and the cicadas are a-buzzing in the trees in the late afternoon. When I pointed this out to the neighbor, he said, "Oh. You mean the locusts?" "Well, yes and no." I replied. It's complicated.


The name "locust" is used for two entirely different insects, which unfortunately creates confusion for the general public. The "locusts" that are mentioned in religious texts and in African plagues are a type of migratory grasshopper that builds huge and devastating, crop-eating populations. This is not the same as the prairie, meadow and common grasshoppers found in Iowa crops, gardens and roadsides.


In the eastern USA the nickname "locust" is applied to the annual cicadas. The common annual cicada in Iowa is the species known as the scissor-grinder, Tibicen auletes. I'm sure you recognize it by the song of the males if not the appearance, though this is the one that commonly leaves an empty shell on tree trunks and fence posts in the yard. Click here to play a recording of the annual cicada. Click on "scissor-grinder cicada" link inside the green box titled "Songs of Insects Jukebox" near the bottom of the page.


Annual cicadas are very common and widespread in trees in urban and rural environments. They are harmless and do not feed on garden crops, corn, soybeans or forages.


Annual cicada.  Photo by Donald LewisAnnual cicada. Photo by Donald Lewis

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