The genus Magicicada contains the periodical cicadas, known for their 17- or 13-year synchronized life cycles and dense choruses. These cicadas have striking black bodies, red eyes, and red wing veins. Males and females join dense aggregations, or leks, where the males search for the stationary females using short flights and calls.

The songs and morphology of the seven periodical cicada species are described on pages linked below. General behavior is described here.

Three 17-year cicada species are described, each with distinctive morphology (shape and color), behavior, and calling signals:

Magicicada septendecim (L. 1758)
Magicicada cassini (Fisher 1851)
Magicicada septendecula Alexander and Moore 1962

For each 17-year species, there is at least one morphologically and behaviorally similar species with a 13-year life cycle:

Magicicada tredecim (Walsh and Riley 1868)
Magicicada neotredecim Marshall and Cooley 2000
Magicicada tredecassini Alexander and Moore 1962
Magicicada tredecula Alexander and Moore 1962

The closest relative of each Magicicada species appears to be a counterpart with the alternative life cycle. Some species pairs can be distinguished only by life cycle and geographic distribution. Some biologists have argued that the life cycle difference alone is not enough to justify species status. More information on the nature of the boundary between 13- and 17-year populations and the extent of hybridization between them would help to resolve this question, but for now there is no evidence that the distinctiveness of the life-cycle-forms is decreasing. For this reason and for practical purposes, most writers have adopted the taxonomy that recognizes the life cycle siblings as distinct species.

Most of the broods contain all of the 13- or 17-year species, with a few exceptions. Brood VI lacks Magicicada cassinii, Brood VII contains only Magicicada septendecim (which tends to be found alone along the northern edge of the 17-year range), and 13-year Brood XXII lacks Magicicada neotredecim. The four 13-year species are all found together in only a limited portion of the 13-year range (see below).

The -decim species differ in abdomen color. M. neotredecim and M. septendecim tend to be darker than M. tredecim.

The two 13-year -decim species have a special geographic relationship — they are not sympatric (living together) across the entire 13-year range. Magicicada neotredecim inhabits the midwestern part of the 13-year range, while M. tredecim inhabits the southern and southeastern part. The two species overlap only along a narrow region in northern Arkansas, western Kentucky, and southern Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. By comparison, the three 17-year species are found together from Connecticut to Kansas, and the remaining 13-year species together inhabit most 13-year populations. Where Magicicada neotredecim and M. tredecim overlap, male calling songs (and female song preferences) of these species have evolved to become more distinct. In this overlap zone, Magicicada neotredecim songs are much higher-pitched, while M. tredecim songs are slightly lower-pitched. This pattern of reproductive character displacement suggests that the songs have evolved to reduce wasteful sexual interactions between the species.

Map of Reproductive Character Displacement in the -decim species