Kermit the Frog always said, "It's not easy being green." Well, I've decided that it's not easy being a cicada either.
My dogs absolutely love to munch cicadas and have been known to catch them in mid-air. If they find one on the ground, they'll often hold it in their mouth for a little bit to get it to buzz before they chomp down and eat it. A canine "Fizzy", I guess.
Then there are more "normal" predators like birds and, especially, the huge wasps known as cicada killers. Female cicada killers hunt down a cicada, sting it to paralyze it (but keep it alive), drag it back to their nest in the ground, carry it below ground, lay an egg on it and seal the brood cell off. When the egg hatches, the larval wasp eats out the paralyzed, living cicada, pupates, and emerges the next year to repeat the cycle. An effective population control mechanism for cicadas, although it's extremely unsettling to think about.
I suspect that moles eat a fair number of cicada nymphs, too, as the nymphs feed and mature underground.
Now, I've learned about another animal that feasts on cicadas, specifically on the nymphs while they are still underground - the cedar beetle, Sandalus niger, also descriptively known as the cicada parasite beetle. I've been observing these large beetles all around the yard over the last few days. Most often, I'm seeing them on honeylocust trees.
These are fairly large beetles - many are close to an inch in length. I first noticed one when I saw a big brown beetle being eating by 2 wheelbugs. I've never seen TWO wheelbugs eating the same beetle before! I took photos and tried to identify the beetle, but I couldn't quite make it out. It looked somewhat like a longhorn beetle, but I didn't see long "horns" (antennae) on it.
Before I went in for the evening, I took several more photos of each of the different beetles I'd observed, and I also found a 6th beetle on the underside of a honeylocust branch. This was another female, based on the size and shape, but I didn't get any clear photos of her.
Looking through Insects in Kansas, by Glenn A. Salsbury and Stephan C. White, I found the tentative identification of my beetles, which I confirmed on BugGuide.net. They were all the same species, Sandalus niger. Insects in Kansas had noted that males often had blackish-brown wing-covers, rather than black, and on BugGuide, I saw the difference in antennae between the males and females. There wasn't a lot of information given about the species on its information page at BugGuide, but it was noted that the adult beetles are very short-lived.
I've gone back and picked up the "empty" beetles discarded by the wheelbugs after they were through eating them so that I could examine them more closely, plus I've been able to find a couple more dead specimens. Sunday, October 19th, was the only day that I saw so many living individuals, although I've seen one or two more each day since then. I have not heard the clicking noise again.
I have seen one more instance where two wheelbugs were eating the same cedar beetle. Do wheelbugs do this with any large insect, or is it only with cedar beetles? I'll be keeping my eyes open to see what I observe in the future.
Isn't the complexity of life fascinating?!