Cicadas have a fascinating life cycle, but most of us only become aware of them in summer when they reach adulthood and begin their loud, drone-like call. Some cicadas, like the golden emperor, have complicated songs. The summertime call of the cicada is made by the adult male to attract females. Their eggs are laid usually in scratches cut through tree bark. Once breeding has been completed, the adults die.
When the eggs hatch, the larvae drop to the ground and burrow under the soil. The larvae attach themselves to tree roots and feed on the sap - this stage in their life cycle is called a nymph stage. This underground stage, periodically shedding their skin as they grow, can last as little as several months for some species or as long as several years for others.
When they have reached maturity, the cicada nymphs emerge from the soil as a group and climb onto a vertical surface. They shed their skin for the last time to become adult cicadas with their characteristic heavily veined, transparent wings. Their empty nymph skin is commonly seen attached to trees and fence posts during summer and it is a diagnostic feature for cicada species identification. A few days after emerging from the soil, the males call for a mate and the cycle begins again.
The endemic golden emperor (Anapsaltoda pulchra) is one of Australia's biggest and prettiest cicadas. It only occurs in dense rainforests in a small area of the Wet Tropics extending from the southern tablelands to the Kirrama Range, northwest of Cardwell. The Nandroya Falls track in the Palmerston section of Wooroonoran National Park is a good place to hear the golden emperor, but only for a few weeks in January.
This particular cicada's call is very distinctive, starting with two notes and then raising pitch and intensity before it suddenly drops down to a machine-like whirr - a delight to hear. The golden emperor calls in groups but getting to see one up close is very difficult as they fly away when approached. Also, as their breeding season progresses, they gradually move higher up the tree trunks, making their call the only sign they are still around.