When we find at an adult cicada in nature, we almost never find substances smeared on the wing surface, particles attached to the wing or microorganisms growing on the wings. However wing fouling is a common problem for many man-made objects. Airplanes, helicopters, wind turbines and other structures exposed to moving air accumulate aeroplankton and airborne particles. Fouling is difficult to prevent. Yet cicadas wings do not suffer from fouling. Why?
One reason could be that cicada wings do foul and fouling leads to a rapid death, so we underestimate surface contamination. There is not much evidence for this hypothesis. We do not find dead cicadas with fouled wings and fouling is not observed in captivity. Alternatively, the wings could be maintained particle free by grooming. However, cicada sucking mouthparts are not suited to wing grooming and the wings of many species extend far beyond the reach of the legs. Wing grooming is not a notable behavior in cicadas. The leading hypothesis is that the structure of the wing itself is resistant to fouling. Studies of the microstructure of cicada wing surfaces support this hypothesis. It is hoped that we can apply cicada solutions to wing fouling to our man made equipment.