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Composite image of a book page of origami instructions for folding a cicada bug next to an orange and white paper origami cicada on a brown and green tree trunk.
A page from the “Kayaragusa, Maki no 8” featuring instructions on creating an origami cicada next to a completed origami cicada on a tree. (Jennifer Ezell/Library of Congress staff)

Build a Brood of Cicadas: Origami Collections & Activity

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Earlier this spring, I visited family in the Midwest and heard the unmistakable sound of cicadas. This Midwestern emergence reminded me of the invasion of cicadas that I saw here in Washington, D.C. in 2021, when the East Coast was surrounded by the flying bugs and their shed exoskeletons.  

Seeing all of these cicadas reminded me of somewhere else I’ve seen them—in the Library’s collection, specifically in the Asian Reading Room. Last year, when I was researching how to create an origami king prawn shrimp, I requestedKayaragusa, Maki no 8  from the Library’s collection with the assistance of Japanese reference specialist Cameron Penwell. I remembered seeing other animals that could be recreated in origami, including birds, a frog, an octopus, and bugs like cicadas.  

This year, in honor of the emerging brood around the United States, I decided to take some time to recreate this origami cicada. Although the book is only available onsite to registered readers, my modified instructions below will allow your family to create an origami cicada inspired by this book—no matter where in the world you are. 

A japanese origami book page sits open with instructions on how to fold paper to form an origami cicada. Japanese script text is written on the page.
Instructions for an origami cicada from “Kayaragusa, Maki no 8” in the Library of Congress’ Asian Reading Room. (Jennifer Ezell/Library of Congress staff)


As I looked at the four images included in the book, I saw a few key indicators that would help me with recreating the cicada origami. Specifically, marks on the page indicated different steps of the folding process. Additionally, marks on the corners of the folding instructions, including triangles and an X, helped show the proper orientation of the paper when folding, as well as the appropriate location of the folds. These were all clues that I used to determine the best ways to fold the paper to mimic what was done in the book. Follow the steps below to create your own cicada inspired by this historic book from the Library of Congress’ collection. 

Step One:  

Take a square piece of paper and fold it in half twice, unfolding it in between to create four squares.  

A white square of paper folded and unfolded twice sits on a table.
Step One of building your cicada. (Jennifer Ezell/Library of Congress staff)

Step Two:  

Fold one corner of the paper to the corner diagonally opposite it. This will form a large triangle shape. 

A orange piece of paper folded into a triangle sits on a table.
Step two of building your cicada. (Jennifer Ezell/Library of Congress staff)

Step Three 

Take the two side points of the triangle and fold them up towards the point at the top of the triangle.  

An orange piece of paper folded into a square sits on a table.
Step three of building your cicada. (Jennifer Ezell/Library of Congress staff)

Step Four:  

You now have a folded square share. Next, you’ll create the wings of the cicada. Fold each of two points you just folded to the top point down at a slight angle and crease them. You’ll fold them just past the bottom of the paper, about halfway. 

An orange piece of paper sits on a table with two points folded downward to form wings.
Step four of building your cicada. (Jennifer Ezell/Library of Congress staff)

Step Five:  

At the top point across from the wings you’ll have two layers of paper remaining. Take the first layer and fold it down over the wings. Don’t fold it all the way down, leave about half an inch of paper between the top of the wings and the fold. 

An orange and white piece of paper sits on a table with the top folded down to form an origami cicada.
Step five of building your cicada. (Jennifer Ezell/Library of Congress staff)

Step Six:  

Next, fold the same section down again, overlapping the paper you just folded. This forms the triangle shape between the wings on the back of the cicada. 

An orange and white piece of paper sits on a table with folds to create wings and a cicada's back.
Step six of building your cicada. (Jennifer Ezell/Library of Congress staff)

Step Seven: 

In order to make the final folds, begin curling the paper. Curl the sides of the cicada inwards and under to form the curvature of the bug. Also begin curling the side without the wings downward to form the head. You can use a pencil or your finger to curl the paper by running it along the paper and pulling it downward several times

An orange and white paper is folded to look like a cicada with the side curved under.
Step seven of building your cicada. (Jennifer Ezell/Library of Congress staff)

Step Eight:  

After curling the paper, gather the sides of the cicada and fold them onto each other underneath the bug. Bring the head down and fold it with the sides underneath the cicada. This part can be a little hard to keep the bug held together and you may want to use tape or glue to keep the pieces of paper attached to each other, as I have in the image below. 

An orange and white piece of paper is folded under with tape holding the pieces together to form a cicada shape.
Step eight of building your cicada. (Jennifer Ezell/Library of Congress staff)

Step Nine:

Crinkle the paper that is the head of the cicada and pinch it to loosely form eyes. I found this step particularly hard as the paper I was using was rather stiff. I wonder if other paper, such as rice paper, might be more flexible and better for this step. 

An orange and white piece of paper folded in the shape of a cicada site on a table.
Step nine of building your cicada. (Jennifer Ezell/Library of Congress staff)

You have now completed your cicada! Add it to your house to honor this year’s emerging brood. Of, if you aren’t in an area that is seeing the 13 and 17 year emergence, create more and build your own brood of cicadas!  

The paper I used had color only one side, but I found that other paper gave the cicada a different look. I could even draw on the paper to create a more bug-like pattern for my finished cicada or color in the eyes to match the bug’s.

A group of 4 origami cicadas sit on a table. They are in different colors including silver and white, orange floral, gold and white, and orange and white.
My cicada brood, created using different origami paper to get different designs. (Photo by Jennifer Ezell)

Have you seen other origami animals? If you haven’t, what animal would you create out of origami?  

Just like me, others have been inspired by the creatures before and there are many cicadas in the Library’s collection. In 1903 Alfred Lambourne published a book of sonnets called “Cicadas in Home Sweet Home.” The title poem in the book recalls the sound of the summer night, “a piercing, crisp, intense, sharp, blade-like sound” that reminded the writer of home.  

The Library of Congress has many resources about cicadas, including a recent guide to periodical cicadas and blog post created by experts in the Science Section of the Science & Business Reading Room that highlights everything from books on cicadas to historic newspaper articles and other online resources. If you’re looking for some inspiration while making your origami or another cicada-related artwork, check out this United States Department of Agriculture video that shows off the memorable sounds of the brood. 

Have you been inspired by the cicadas you’ve seen? Or has something unique inspired your creative interests? 

Learn more about cicadas with these resources from the Library of Congress: 

  • This blog post from the Copyright Division, and this blog post from the Music Division share information about how cicadas have served as artistic inspiration 
  • This blog post from our colleagues in the Science and Business Divisions has information about the 2021 cicada brood 

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