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Giant Cicada / Chicharra Grande

Quesada gigas (Olivier 1790)

Family Cicadidae, Subfamily Cicadinae

Link to sound files of this screaming loud insect

Giant Cicada / Chicharra  Grande - Quesada gigas (Olivier 1790)

Giant Cicada / Chicharra  Grande - Quesada gigas (Olivier 1790)

Male and Female Quesada gigas
Male has enlarged abdomen for a sound chamber
(Photos courtesy Charles Bordelon, Texas Lepidoptera Survey)

Most of the various Texas cicadas have a similar camouflaged appearance as they differentiate themselves by sound, not by looks.

Texas County Records for Quesada gigas

Giant Cicada / Chicharra  Grande / Quesada gigas
(Plus Austin Co. - Troy Gosney, and Doug Matuska)

Blue counties are the species' historical range, most (if not all) of south Texas brushlands
Red counties indicate expanded range and increased abundance for Q. gigas for 2006
Green counties indicate expanded range and increased abundance for Q. gigas for 2009

Please report any additional counties to Mike Quinn


Giant Cicadas range from central Texas to central Argentina (Sanborn &. Phillips 2013). This is the widest ranging cicada in the Western Hemisphere and has almost no variation in its song throughout its range.

Davis (1944) reported the earliest Bexar Co. (San Antonio) records  from 1934. From 2006 to 2009, this species was common and wide spread iacross central Texas, but has mostly been uncommon north of San Antonio since 2009.

iNaturalist (iNat) - Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF)

Sound & Activity

Giant Cicada / Chicharra  Grande - Quesada gigas (Olivier 1790)

Audiospectrograph Courtesy David Huffman

Sound: chic-chic-chic-chic-chic, zwEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE... song can be repeated without pause, see audiospectrograph.

WAV File (download) - July 10, 2006 - Universal City, Bexar Co. - Royce W. Johnson

MP3 File (plays directly) - June 10, 2007 - David Huffman, Prof. of Biology, Texas State University-San Marcos

WMA File (download) - July 26, 2009 - west bank of the Brazos River in Brazos Co. - Jane Packard, Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M Univ.

MOV File (download) - Feb 17(!), 2017 - calling close to dusk at Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco, Hidalgo Co. - Rick Snider, Park Host

If heard in the distance, only the "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE..." portion may be audible...

Sings primarily at dusk (between 8:37 and 9:04), and less often at dawn (between 6:15 and 6:25) in central Texas. Sings all day (and occasionally through the night) further south.

Note, there are over 40 species of cicadas in Texas, but the Giant Cicada is truly unique in terms of the sound it makes.

Comments on the Sound of the Beast:

" ended in a long and loud note resembling the steam-whistle of a locomotive engine" - Henry Walter Bates (1863)
much like a steam-engine or loose fan belt in your car
These sound like turbine engines!
so loud that normal conversation is not possible
a bit unnerved by the sound
Is that a train?
sounds like "banshees"
in the Rio Grande Valley, the chicharra's song was THE sound of summer
so loud we almost need to shut the doors to hear the television!
Sounds like a evening at my welitas [grandma's] house in Laredo...
sound that's loud enough to bring neighbors out of their houses
a very loud "song" that will drown out any bird song or call
thought my neighbor was using a piece of equipment in his garage
a loud ear pearcing sound much like that of electric drill or motor
heard them for the first time last night and thought it was the alarm on his solar panels!
My first impression was it sounded like the old A-bomb evacuation horns I remember as a kid.
My neighbor though the gas pipeline was getting ready to blow.  Another friend thought his mule was sick! 
I had been thinking of them as the "fire alarm" or "smoke detector" cicada because the call is so loud and rather annoying. 
It sounds like a steam pressure relief valve that runs for 5 seconds or so and is then followed by sever chuck sounds.
I was convinced that one of my neighbors had bought a new carpenter's router and was so enamored with it that he was routing every board he could find.

Sound Mechanism:

Unlike crickets and grasshoppers which make sounds by rubbing their wings and legs together, male cicadas produce sound by vibrating special membrane-like structures (tymbals) on their abdomen. The male’s enlarged abdomen is mostly filled with an air sac that functions as a resonance chamber thus greatly amplifying their songs. (Triplehorn & Johnson, 2004)

Katydids such as the Central Texas Leaf-Katydid primarily sing from dusk on into the night, but during population outbreaks, Katydids may sing day and night! 


Cicadas, in general, are difficult to study as they spend their pre-adult life underground, and their short adult life high up in trees.
Further complicating matters is the fact that many species look very similar to each other as they differenciate themseves by sound, not looks.

Calling site and calling posture:

Primarily inhabits the canopy with some individuals at low level, on trunks or on primary stems. No body movement during sound production. (Sueur, 2002)


Gregarious: static at low density but mobile at high density, males calling two or three times and then flying to another calling site. Sing in chorus with synchronization of the second high-pitched part of their song. (Sueur, 2002)

Life Cycle: 

This species spends at least four years underground as immature insects feeding on tree roots, mostly Huisache and other members of the Legume family.

Size: Length from tip of head to tip of folded wings over 60 mm

Habitat: Secondary growth or forest remnants.

Host Plants: (Martinelli & Zucchi, 1997, Zanuncio et al., 2004)

Huisache (Acacia farnesiana), Caesalpinia peltophoroides, Cassia spp., Piptadenia sp., Schizolobium amazonicum - Legume Family Fabaceae
Mulberry (introduced) Morus alba - Mulberry Family Moraceae
Avocado - Persea Americana - Laurel Family Lauraceae 
Cacao - Theobroma cacao - Cacao Family Sterculiaceae
Coffee - Coffea spp., Madder Family Rubiaceae

Similar Species: There are 166 species of cicadas in the United States and Canada. (Arnett, 2000)

North American Taxonomy: Checklist of Cicadas North of Mexico

Texas Taxa: There are over 40 species of Cicadas in Texas (Davis, 1944)

Cicada Checklist of Texas - Bibby (1936)

Central Texas Cicadas

Identification: Key to the genera of temperate North American Cicadidae adults

Adult Activity

Sings April to October in south Texas, but the height of the season is from June to July (Davis, 1944) 

First Central Texas records for 2006:

First Texas Records for 2007:

First Texas Records for 2008:

First Texas Records for 2009:
Significant Records for 2010
Significant Records for 2011
Significant Records for 2012
Significant Records for 2013
Significant Records for 2016
Significant Records for 2017
Significant Records for 2018 Significant Records for 2019 Significant Records for 2020


Cicada Killer Wasps, Genus Sphecius spp. Two species are present in Texas (only four spp. occur in N. and C. America):

Sphecius grandis (Say) - BugGuide
Sphecius speciosus (Drury) - Photo - in flight with cicada
- Prof. Chuck Holliday's Cicada-Killer Page



Cicada Parasite Beetles (Rhipiceridae), Texas taxa:

Sandalus niger Knoch - BugGuide Sandalus Info
Sandalus porosus

Literary Quote: Henry Walter Bates. 1863. The Naturalist on the River Amazons, chapter IX, part III. 2 vols, Murray, London.

"The weather was now settled and dry, and the river sank rapidly--six inches in twenty-four hours. In this remote and solitary spot I can say that I heard for the first and almost the only time the uproar of life at sunset, which Humboldt describes as having witnessed towards the sources of the Orinoco, but which is unknown on the banks of the larger rivers. The noises of animals began just as the sun sank behind the trees after a sweltering afternoon, leaving the sky above of the intensest shade of blue. Two flocks of howling monkeys, one close to our canoe, the other about a furlong distant, filled the echoing forests with their dismal roaring. Troops of parrots, including the hyacinthine macaw we were in search of, began then to pass over; the different styles of cawing and screaming of the various species making a terrible discord. Added to these noises were the songs of strange Cicadas, one large kind perched high on the trees around our little haven setting up a most piercing chirp. it began with the usual harsh jarring tone of its tribe, but this gradually and rapidly became shriller, until it ended in a long and loud note resembling the steam-whistle of a locomotive engine. Half-a-dozen of these wonderful performers made a considerable item in the evening concert. I had heard the same species before at Para, but it was there very uncommon; we obtained one of them here for my collection by a lucky blow with a stone. [Emphasis added] The uproar of beasts, birds, and insects lasted but a short time: the sky quickly lost its intense hue, and the night set in. Then began the tree-frogs--quack-quack, drum-drum, hoo-hoo; these, accompanied by a melancholy night-jar, kept up their monotonous cries until very late."

Etymology: Quesada gigas (Olivier 1790)

giga (Greek). Giant, very large (Borror 1960)

chi·cha·rra f. (Spanish)
1. - cicada
2. colloquial (persona) - chatterbox
3. SPAIN: - nuisance

Biography: Guillaume Antoine Olivier 1756-1814 - University of Nebraska-Lincoln State Museum - Division of Entomology

Miscellaneous Cicada Information


Cicadas are commonly referred to as locusts which are technically grasshoppers. This common reference began when early North American settlers encountered mass emergences of periodic cicadas. Using the Bible as a guide to plagues of insects, the closest match they found was locusts and so the name stuck...

Photo: Close-up of cicada emerging in the Texas Hill Country

Loudest Cicada: 

The world's loudest insects are cicadas. The loudest of all insects may the Imperial Cicada (Pomponia imperatoria) of southeast Asian. Anecdotal accounts of their song suggest they are deafening. (Petti, 1997) Another candidate for world's loudest insect is the Australian cicada Cyclochila australasiae.

Stamps and Trinkets: 

Cicadas have been featured on stamps from around the world, even the U.S...

This 33¢ stamp was issued by the United States Postal Service on October 1, 1999 as part of the Insects & Spiders Issue series.

Lucky Cicada key ring - Forest Bug Series - "Cicada sornd (sic) will emit when press" - made in China, other examples

Beauty: Many cicadas of southeast Asia are particularly beautiful, see Michel Chantraine Cicada Gallery #1, #2, #3


Arnett, R. H. 2000. (Second Edition) American Insects: Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. 1024 pp. [relevant page]

Bates, H.W. 1863. The Naturalist on the River Amazons. 2 vols, Murray, London.

Bibby, F.F. 1936. The Cicadas of Texas (Homoptera: Cicadidae), MSc Thesis, Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, College Station, TX.

Borror, D.J. 1960. Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms. National Press Books, Palo Alto. 134 pp.

Bromley, S.W. 1933. Cicadas in Texas. Psyche 40(4): 130.

Davis W.T. 1944. The remarkable distribution of an American cicada: a new genus, and other cicada notes. Journal of the New York Entomological Society 52: 213-223. 

Drew W.A., F.L. Spangler, & D. Molnar. 1974. Oklahoma Cicadidae (Homoptera). Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science 54: 90–97.

Duffels, J.P., & P.A. van der Laan. 1985. Catalogue of the Cicadoidea (Homoptera, Auchenorrhyncha) 1956-1980. W. Junk, Dordrecht. xiv + 414pp.

Hogue, C. L. 1994. Latin American Insects and Entomology. University of California Press. 594 pp.

Marshall, D.C., Moulds, M.S.. Hill, K.B.R., Price, B.W., Wade, E.J., Owen, C.L., Goemans, G., Marathe, K., Sarkar, V., Cooley, J.R., Sanborn, A.F., Kunte, K., Villet, M.H. & Simon, C. (2018) A molecular phylogeny of the cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae) with a review of tribe and subfamily classification. Zootaxa 4424(1): 001–064.

Martinelli, N.M.; Zucchi, R.A. 1997. Primeiros registros de plantas hospedeiras de Fidicina mannifera, Quesada gigas e Dorisiana drewseni (Hemiptera: Cicadidae). Revista de Agricultura 72: 271-281.

Metcalf, Z.P. 1963. General Catalogue of the Homoptera. Fascicle VIII. Cicadoidea. Parts 1-2. USDA-ARS, Washington.

Moore, T.E. 1993. Acoustic signals and speciation in cicadas (Insecta: Homoptera: Cicadidae). Pp. 269–284. In: D.R. Lees & D. Edwards, (editors). Evolutionary patterns and processes. Linnean Society Symposium Series no. 14. Academic Press, London.

Olivier A.G. 1790. Encyclopedia méthodique. Histoire Naturelle: Insectes. 5:1-368.

Parks, H.B. 1935. Texas Cicadidae. manuscript.

Petti, J.M. 1997.  Loudest. Chapter 24 in University of Florida Book of Insect Records, 2001. [PDF version]

Sanborn A.F., Heath M.S., Heath J.E., Noriega F.G. 1995. Diurnal activity, temperature responses and endothermy in three South American cicadas (Homoptera: Cicadidae: Dorisiana bonaerensis, Quesada gigas and Fidicina mannifera). Journal of Thermal Biology, 20(6): 451-460.

Sanborn, A.F., and P.K. Phillips. 2013. Biogeography of the Cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae) of North America, North of Mexico. Diversity 5(2): 166–239.

Sueur, J. 2002. Cicada acoustic communication: potential sound partitioning in a multispecies community from Mexico (Hemiptera: Cicadomorpha: Cicadidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 75(3): 379-394.

Taber, S.W. & S.B. Fleenor. 2003. Insects of the Texas Lost Pines. Texas A&M University, College Station. 283 pp.

Taber, S.W. & S.B. Fleenor. 2005. Invertebrates of Central Texas Wetlands. Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock. 309 pp.

Triplehorn, C.A. & N.F. Johnson. 2004. (Seventh Edition) An Introduction to the Study of Insects. Thomson Brooks/Cole, Belmont, CA. 864 pp.

Wolda, H. 1989. Seasonal cues in tropical organisms. Rainfall? Not necessarily! Oecologia 80(4): 437-442. 

Wolda, H. 1993. Diel and seasonal patterns of mating calls in some neotropical cicadas. Acoustic interference. Proceedings of the Koninklijke Nederlanse Akademie Van Wetenschappen 96: 369–381.

Young, A.M. 1980. Habitat and Seasonal Relationships of Some Cicadas (Homoptera: Cicadidae) in Central Costa Rica. American Midland Naturalist, 103(1): 155-166.

Young, A.M. 1981. Temporal Selection for Communicatory Optimization: The Dawn-Dusk Chorus as an Adaptation in Tropical Cicadas. American Naturalist, 117(5): 826-829.

Young, A.M. 1983. On the evolution of cicada X host-tree associations in Central America. Acta Biotheoretica 33(3): 163-198. 

Zanuncio, J.C., Pereira, F.F., Zanuncio, T.V., Martinelli, N.M. Pinon, T.B.M., Guimarães, E.M. 2004. Occurrence of Quesada gigas on Schizolobium amazonicum trees in Maranhão and Pará States, Brazil. Pesq. agropec. bras., 39(9): 943-945. [PDF form]

13 July 2020  © Mike Quinn / / Texas Entomology / Texas Cicadas