News Brief by Kip Hansen – 1 April 2021
If you thought the latest zombie movie was scary, check out this headline from The New York Times:
Billions (Yes, Billions) of Cicadas Soon to Emerge From Underground
Swarms of cicadas, part of a group called Brood X, are expected to appear in 18 states in the next few weeks, just in time to help orchestrate the soundtrack of summer. [ source ]
That’s right, billions with a capital B, Billions of these lovely creatures will soon be climbing up the trunks of your trees and bushes and settling in to create maddeningly loud noise, all night long. That is if you happen to be lucky enough to live in one of the fourteen (some say 18) Eastern States of the U.S. where Brood X (that’s the Roman Numeral “X”, as in ten, not as in Gen X) of the 17-year cicada. Specifically “Brood X contains three species, Magicicada septendecim, Magicicada cassinii and Magicicada septendecula, that congregate on different trees and have different male songs. The brood’s most recent major emergence occurred during the spring of 2004.” [ source ]
Where are we going to see this rather incredible natural phenomenon?
This map is general, and marks a whole state even if just a small portion of the state is expected to have an emergence of Brood X.
The BBC provides this video on cicada emergence:
In answer to a few common questions:
- Do cicadas bite or sting? No, they are mostly harmless.
- Will the cicadas damage my trees? If you have an extreme infestation, maybe a little, but not much. The answer is different if you own an apple or other fruit orchard.
- Will they hurt my new fruit trees, bushes or my garden? “If you’re planting trees, wait until July. If your yard doesn’t get cicadas by the first week of June, it’s probably safe to plant in June. Otherwise, you can use netting to keep cicadas from laying eggs in the branches of fragile trees. It’s the egg-laying that does damage. They usually avoid garden and flowering plants because their stems aren’t strong enough for an egg nest.” [ source ]
- Should I spray them with insecticide? No, they will die in a few weeks anyway (generally only living as adults for 3-4 weeks).
- If I live in one of the states on the map, will my yard experience an emergence? Not necessarily, Brood X is very locale-specific and many states have them only in certain counties. Adults must have laid eggs in your trees, the nymphs later dropping to the ground and burrowing into your soil, all 17 years ago. If you had them in 2004, you will probably have them this year.
- Why only every 17-years? We don’t know. Some other cicada species have a 13-year cycle and others are annual.
So, what do adult cicadas do?
They are like college students, they only want to do one thing: mate. “Above ground, cicadas only live for a few weeks, during which they mate. The female cuts V-shaped slits in the bark of young twigs and lays about 20 eggs in each, for a total of 600 or more eggs. After approximately 6 to 10 weeks, the eggs will hatch and the nymphs will drop to the ground, burrowing into the ground to feed and develop for the next 13 to 17 years.” [ source ]
Having mated and laid their eggs, the adults die, restoring relative quiet to the land.
In support of the truism that “There is at least one dedicated web site for any topic you can think of (and for many topics that you could never even imagine)” the Cicada Mania site has more information about all-things-cicada, including Brood X t-shirts and mugs.
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Nature comprises some rather odd things that we humans find hard or so-far-impossible to understand. The 13- and 17-year cycles of cicadas is one of those odd things. Don’t ask me, I simply have no idea. I don’t even have an opinion!
I do find it interesting. Not only that there is a 17-year periodical cicada, but that my local Brood X is made up of three different species, all with the same 17-year timing.
Happy April Fools’ Day – this one is real though – but the joke is on us. 17 years? Really?
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