Bugging Out!

Little Miss Cicada.
Little Miss Cicada spreading her wings.
Little Miss Cicada hanging out.
Little Miss Cicada hanging out.

“Every time I see them, I scrunch my shoulders and feel weird inside.  They freak me out!  They’re gross!”

Best quote award goes to my daughter Hannah, who was a teenager in 2013, the last time Brood X cicadas created a stir (of wings) in the Garden State.

Yes, our dog Lucy thought they made tasty treats. Yes, that’s me holding an adult cicada. No, no one else in my family thought they were cool.

Repost: Cicada City Part 1

One of my favorite summer nighttime sounds is the collective hum of cicadas.  They start somewhere at the end of June and continue, if it’s warm enough, into October.  I make a mental note the night I don’t hear them anymore. Then, I know winter’s on its way.

This year, a different cicada has come out of its 17-year hibernation.  If you haven’t heard of the periodical Brood II cicadas, I’m afraid you’ve either been living under a rock or under the ground as a separate cicada species. The, ummm, buzz about the buzz started before the first cicada wriggled out of a 1/4 “diameter hole in the ground.  The bugaboo about these bugs reached an all-time high about the same time a rash of little holes covered my yard.  It looked like someone had aerated the ground.  Ohhh, I guess someone did!

Hon, guess what came next?  A condition I’m calling “Cicada Hysteria!”  In fact, plenty of people are still afflicted with “Cicada Hysteria” since the insects are still underfoot, climbing trees, flying around and altogether creating a modern day horror movie.  Take Teenage Daughter #1.  Here’s what she has to say about them, “Every time I see them, I scrunch my shoulders and feel weird inside.  They freak me out!  They’re gross!”

Unlike Teenage Daughter #1, Teenage Daughter #2 is indifferent, and Tween Daughter thinks they’re cool.  From afar.  She doesn’t mind looking at them from a safe distance, but she’s not about to let a six-legged cidada crawl on her arm.

Hon, guess who let a six-legged cicada crawl on her arm?  You got it.  I bonded with Little Miss Cicada! LMC hung out on in my hands for a half hour.  LMC wasn’t trapped, tied down or otherwise constrained.  She hung out of her own free will.  I think we were equally fascinated with each other.

She allowed me to touch her hard shell and peer into the black pupils in the middle of her red eyes.  The antennas under her eyes were short and black.  She picked up her leg and “waved” to me and Tween Daughter.  Really!  Her legs were sticky in an “I can cling to bark” kind-of-way.  I have no idea what LMC was thinking.  Do cicadas think?  If they do, maybe she was thinking, “Please scratch my shell.  It’s really itchy when it first comes out of its exoskeleton!”

I placed her on the side of a Tulip tree, and now I listen for her loud buzz when I water the flowers, walk Lucy and drive through town. I hope that as soon as the song of the Brood II cicadas dies down, the annual cicadas that sing in the night return.

Then I’ll sit outside at dusk, watching the trees turn into silhouettes against the indigo sky. The bats will flit about catching mosquitoes, the fireflies will wink to each other and the screech owls will whistle and hoot.  The perfect, warm temperature of summer nights will fill me up…with hope and happiness and satisfaction. 

Little Miss Cicada.
Bonding with Little Miss Cicada. (photos courtesy of Tween Daughter)

Cicada Party

Wonderlab.org

The cicadas are coming! 2013 was the last year they covered the Garden State’s trees, grass and sidewalks. This excellent article by Eleanor Lutz for The New York Times “invites” us to the Cicada Party.

Hon, I’m kinda grossed out and a lot fascinated! How about you?!

An Invitation to the Cicada Party

Any day now, our insect neighbors will host a once-in-a-cicada-lifetime party. Billions of cicadas, part of a cohort called Brood X, will emerge from underground tunnels to sing, mate and die across the eastern United States. Like any good party, the emergence will be loud. It will be crowded. And everyone’s invited.

The Activities

SINGING–The party will be announced by a cacophony of cicada song, as the males begin to gather in a treetop chorus to call for mates.

MATING–The Brood X females won’t sing in the chorus, but they have plenty of other activities to keep them occupied. After mating, a female cicada needs to choose a tree that will safely harbor her offspring for the next seventeen years. Then she will use a saw-like appendage called an ovipositor to insert her eggs into a young branch.

DYING–The frenzy of singing, mating and egg laying will last just four to six weeks. Then the adult cicadas will die and fall to the ground, creating piles of brown carcasses underneath the trees.

The Soundtrack

The Brood X cohort actually consists of three different cicada species. The males of each species sing a distinctive song to attract others to their chorus. Males also have additional songs for courting nearby females, and they can make a rough, buzzing alarm if they’re picked up or handled.

Male cicadas sing by using their muscles to flex ribbed structures called tymbals. A hollow air chamber inside the abdomen is thought to amplify their song. Females don’t have tymbals and can’t sing, but they respond to males by flicking their wings to make a faint clicking sound. TymbalAir chamber0.25 inches

Directions

Brood X — or the “Great Eastern Brood” — is one of the largest periodical cicada broods in the United States. The insects are expected to emerge this year in at least 15 states, including in cities like Baltimore, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C.

Periodical cicadas occur throughout the eastern United States but are relatively rare across the world. Outside of North America, there are eight year periodical cicadas in Fiji and four year cicadas in India.

Source: U.S.D.A. Forest Service·Note: Published in 2013. Brood distributions can change or even disappear completely if environment conditions become unsuitable. Some cicadas emerge several years early or late.

Throughout history, periodical cicadas have been carefully tracked and mapped by agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Today, many scientists use community science projects like the Cicada Safari phone app to track the broods. Anyone using the app can take a photo of their neighborhood cicadas to contribute to the mapping effort.

The Menu

Thousands of Brood X cicadas will be eaten by hungry predators ranging from birds to small mammals — likely even some household pets. These cicadas have few defenses. They don’t bite or sting, and they aren’t toxic or poisonous. Instead, their survival strategy seems to consist of emerging in such overwhelming numbers that the area’s predators can’t possibly eat them all. As for the cicadas themselves, they feed by drinking a watery fluid inside the xylem of trees and plants.

Attire

As Brood X begins to emerge, you may see brown, cicada-shaped suits attached to trees or on the ground. These are leftover casings shed by the immature cicadas as they become adults.

During their 17 years in the ground, Brood X cicadas shed their skin four times as they move through their life cycle. The immature underground cicadas, called nymphs, also leave behind tunnels from their journey to the surface, which you may notice as tiny holes in the ground.

When they first crawl out of their nymphal skin, adult cicadas are the color of a slightly green toasted marshmallow. As they complete their transition into adults, their bodies will gradually harden and turn black. Brood X cicadas are known for their charismatic red eyes, though a rare few may have other colors, like blue or white.Newly emerged adultShednymphalskin0.5 inches

R.S.V.P.

The Brood X cicadas are due to appear aboveground from early May into June, depending on the weather. Although some stragglers can emerge early, the mass emergence usually begins after the soil temperature warms to 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you miss this party, the next one won’t be until 2024, when Broods XIII and XIX emerge throughout Illinois, other parts of the Midwest as well as the southern United States.

Eleanor Lutz, The New York Times, May 19, 2021
Reference images and information from: Chris Simon; “Insects, their ways and means of living” by Robert Snodgrass; “Periodical Cicadas: The Brood X Edition” by Gene Kritsky.

Cicada City Part 1

Little Miss Cicada.
Little Miss Cicada spreading her wings.

Little Miss Cicada hanging out.
Little Miss Cicada hanging out.

One of my favorite summer nighttime sounds is the collective hum of cicadas.  They start somewhere at the end of June and continue, if it’s warm enough, into October.  I make a mental note the night I don’t hear them anymore.  Then, I know winter’s on its way.

This year, a different cicada has come out of its17-year hibernation.  If you haven’t heard of the periodical Brood II cicadas, I’m afraid you’ve either been living under a rock or under the ground as a separate cicada species.  The, ummm, buzz about the buzz started before the first cicada wriggled out of a 1/4 “diameter hole in the ground.  The bugaboo about these bugs reached an all-time high about the same time a rash of little holes covered my yard.  It looked like someone had aerated the ground.  Ohhh, I guess someone did!

Hon, guess what came next?  A condition I’m calling “Cicada Hysteria!”  In fact, plenty of people are still afflicted with “Cicada Hysteria” since the insects are still underfoot, climbing trees, flying around and altogether creating a modern day horror movie.  Take Teenage Daughter #1.  Here’s what she has to say about them, “Every time I see them, I scrunch my shoulders and feel weird inside.  They freak me out!  They’re gross!”

Unlike Teenage Daughter #1, Teenage Daughter #2 is indifferent, and Tween Daughter thinks they’re cool.  From afar.  She doesn’t mind looking at them from a safe distance, but she’s not about to let a six-legged cidada crawl on her arm.

Hon, guess who let a six-legged cicada crawl on her arm?  You got it.  I bonded with Little Miss Cicada! LMC hung out on in my hands for a half hour.  LMC wasn’t trapped, tied down or otherwise constrained.  She hung out of her own free will.  I think we were equally fascinated with each other.

She allowed me to touch her hard shell and peer into the black pupils in the middle of her red eyes.  The antennas under her eyes were short and black.  She picked up her leg and “waved” to me and Tween Daughter.  Really!  Her legs were sticky in an “I can cling to bark” kind-of-way.  I have no idea what LMC was thinking.  Do cicadas think?  If they do, maybe she was thinking, “Please scratch my shell.  It’s really itchy when it first comes out of its exoskeleton!”

I expedited LMC’s journey by placing her on the side of a Tulip tree.  Now, I listen for her loud buzz when I water the flowers, walk Lucy and drive through town. I hope that as soon as the song of the Brood II cicadas dies down, the annual cicadas that sing in the night return.

Then I’ll sit outside at dusk, watching the trees turn into silhouettes against the indigo sky. The bats will flit about catching mosquitoes, the fireflies will wink to each other and the screech owls will whistle and hoot.  The perfect, warm temperature of summer nights will fill me up…with hope and happiness and satisfaction. 

Little Miss Cicada.
Bonding with Little Miss Cicada. (photos courtesy of Tween Daughter)