The Usugiri Cicada
The usugiri cicada, Tibicen giridesu, is a cicada native to Japan, and not found anywhere else in the world. It follows the same life cycle as its cousin, the annual cicada, Tibicen linnei, emerging from the earth in late spring, and mating during the summer, when the tell-tale sound of cicadas can be heard all over Japan. But, unlike its cousin, the usugiri does not live exclusively from tree sap. Although the larvae, just like those of other cicadas, will bury underground and feed on the roots of plants, the adults have a quite different approach.
Cicada-hunting has always been popular in japan, where kids (and even adults) will follow the sound of cicadas to find them. The same is done by the natural predators of cicadas, and the insect usually stop as soon as they sense movement close by. Not so the usugiri cicada.
Tibicen giridesu emits two sounds, one of which is heard most at the beginning of summer, and one which is mostly heard at the end of the season. The first sound, similar to the one of the annual cicada, is a way to attract mates, and is stopped as soon as potential predators get near. The second one, however, is designed to attract those same predators. Once they are close enough, the usugiri cicada will use its modified wings to jump at its prey, and, thanks to its powerful mandibles and its front claws evolved for digging, burrow into the predator. Once inside, it will eat its fill, and, using the nourishment thus gained, produce a large number of eggs. The eggs are laid in the carcass of the would-be predators, and hatch quickly. They then gorge themselves, before burrowing into the ground and hibernating. The whole process takes between one or two days.
In the Edo period (1603 – 1868) the usugiri cicada where though to be one of the most dangerous creatures in Japan, and the Shogunate invested much effort into their eradication. It is even believed that one of the reasons for the seclusion of Japan during that time where rumors suggesting the insects had been smuggled in by a foreign power in an attempt to destabilize the regime. However, active hunting of the cicadas soon stopped, since it only gave them more prey and made their numbers flourish.
It is still a mystery to this day how this behavior came to evolve, since attempting to burrow into a predator without the specialized morphological features seen today would result in death almost all the time. Even though cicadas are naturally adapted for digging, it would still be impossible for other cicadas to dig into a living animal. As philosopher Oishii Manju put it:
“It is one thing to plow the earth. It is quite another to plow life.”