X is Back: 17-Year Cicadas Reemerge||
since most members of this year's graduating class were wee ones have the cicadas
been around in such numbers - but they're back. Billions of the insects are emerging
from the ground in a 15-state area from New York to Michigan to Georgia.
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Known scientifically as Magicicade septendecim, the cicadas were
last seen in 1987. They make up Brood X, or group ten under
a federal naming system. Although there are broods that come out
every year, this one is the largest in North America.
"If you figure 100 per square
yard and look at all the land involved, I have estimated 5 billion just for southwestern
Ohio," Gene Kritsky, professor of biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph
in Cincinnati, told The New York Times. "For everywhere, it would be enormous.
I've heard people talk about billions, but that may be low."
insect phenomenon will be as brief as it will be spectacular. Cicadas spend 99
percent of their lives underground. After spring rains, when earth that has remained
undisturbed has softened up and reached 64 degrees Fahrenheit, the creatures begin
crawling out of self-created tunnels.
Starting out as nymphs,
they crawl to nearby posts, trees or just about any vertical surface where they
can shed their tan outer shells. They emerge as adults with black bodies, translucent
orange wings and red eyes. They wait in the warm sun before they begin to mate.
About 20 days later they die.
"If you work with them very much you
can't help the conclusion that they're robots and that they have a couple of simple
goals. One is to not be killed. Two is to find a mate. And three, for the females,
is to put the eggs somewhere," John Cooley, a postdoctoral
fellow who studies periodical cicadas, told The Washington Post.
they may seem like an invading army, cicadas are generally harmless. At worst
they crash picnics and outdoor parties, as well as clog pool filters. Dogs and
cats that overindulge may get sick to their stomachs. According to the University
of Michigan cicada Web site, they'll only bite you if they "mistake you for
a tree branch and try to feed" - a result of holding one in your hand too
is the mating of the cicada that draws so much attention. The males, using sound
organs with ribbed membranes known as tymbals, make a noise that when multiplied
by the thousands has been likened to an approaching train, a lawn mover, a whirling
spaceship, a jet engine. It is their love song.
The males, who mate several
times, gather in large groups or "choruses" in tall sunlit branches.
They "sing" from morning to nightfall to attract the females, who respond
positively with a flick of their wings. Once they've mated, the females, who only
mate once, deposit their eggs in the thin branches of trees. The adults die, the
eggs hatch and the larvae fall to the ground, starting the next 17-year cycle.
X's arrival has inspired cicadamania in folks all over. For some it's insect themed
parties, T-shirts, contests, poems and music.
David Kane has been commissioned to write a musical piece, entitled "Emergence:
A Cicada Serenade", that will be performed in Maryland.
it to reflect the insectlike character of our lives ... this vast rush to get
things done before we vanish," Kane said of his work.
Others see the
millions of insects as a healthy high-protein, low-carbohydrate edible treat.
Jenna Jadin, an entomology student at the University of Maryland, was inspired
to create a culinary how-to-guide, "Cicada-Licious: Cooking and Enjoying
She notes that the cicada is not so different from
crawfish, lobster or shrimp, with which they share a biological phylum. "Popping
a big juicy beetle, cricket, or cicada into your mouth is only a step away,"
For the more squeamish diner the posh Ritz Carlton Georgetown
hotel in Washington, D.C. serves up chocolate disks with the shape of the cicada
pressed into them.
"One lady called and ordered 200 for her wedding,"
general manager Jennifer Brown said in The Washington Post. "A schoolteacher
asked for 1,000 of them. The funny thing is, I've only seen one actual cicada
Annie Schleicher, Online NewsHour