Gone But Not Forgotten
- Aug 18, 2002
- Reaction score
Posted on Tue, May. 11, 2004
Trillions of Cicadas Emerge From Slumber
WASHINGTON - After a 17-year nap, trillions of red-eyed insects are crawling their way above ground in 14 states and the nation's capital.
Loudmouthed and ugly, the cicadas will fly clumsily into pets, bushes and unwitting pedestrians as they engage in a frenetic mating ritual that lasts well into June.
Then they'll disappear for another 17 years.
Keith Clay, a biologist and cicada researcher at Indiana University in Bloomington, said the appearance of cicadas is "an amazing biological phenomenon" that nonetheless produces a "yuck factor" for some people.
"They're not scared but see them as disgusting," he said.
The 1 1/2 inch-long black bugs with iridescent wings buzz around, but are basically harmless. They don't bite, and they don't sting. They live above ground as adults for about 2 1/2 weeks to reproduce all they can before dying.
The adult males begin the mating ritual with a long buzzing sound that attracts the females. The chorus from one colony's male insects is so loud that the insects can drown out outdoor wedding events, graduation ceremonies and golf tournaments, researchers say.
Scientists say this year's batch, the largest of the cicada groups that appear at various intervals, offers researchers a rare opportunity to study the insect's impact on the nation's forests. Recent studies indicate cicadas are growing in numbers due in part to deforestation.
Cicadas tend to thrive in sunlit forest edges, which often provide the warmer weather and younger trees most ideal for them to lay their young. That's because younger tree roots can sustain the 17-year feeding cycle of nymphic cicadas until they mature.
There are more than a dozen broods of 17-year cicadas, along with several 13-year varieties. This year's group, Brood X, is the largest and is concentrated in the Midwest and the mid-Atlantic.
Found only in the United States east of the Great Plains, the periodical cicadas burrow into the ground after hatching, some digging as far as 8 feet under. Below the earth, the nymphs slowly suck the sap from tree roots for nourishment.
After 17 years, they emerge and climb trees and shrubs, where they shed their crunchy skins and harden into maturity.
Sheer numbers is what ensures locusts' survival. The insects are a treat for robins and other birds, and even some pets, who are at risk for diarrhea or constipation if they eat too many. But many cicadas escape death because there are simply too many in the swarm for even the hungriest to devour.
"Their numbers simply overwhelm," Odland said.
Once the bugs mate, the females cut slits into tree branches, where they deposit 400 to 600 eggs. The adults quickly die, but the eggs hatch in a few weeks. The young cicadas dig into the ground and won't emerge into 2021.
The states which will see cicadas this summer include: Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.
ON THE NET
National Science Foundation: http://www.nsf.gov/
Invaded by Brood X
Washington faces insect plague as billions of bugs emerge after 17 years underground. Alec Russell reports
As if George W Bush did not have enough on his plate, Brood X started to take over his capital yesterday.
With a mixture of fear and fascination, Washingtonians prepared for an infestation of Biblical proportions as the first of a swarm of billions of cicadas emerged after 17 years underground.
Red-eyed, black-skinned and up to two inches long, the first cicadas wriggled out of holes in the ground where they have been waiting since the height of Ronald Reagan's presidency.
Within days, large parts of the city and areas across eastern America will be blanketed in cicadas. For the next six weeks, scientists predict, the noise will be staggering as billions of males rub their legs with the vigour of 17 years anticipation in search of the perfect mate.
Schoolchildren have been given instructions in how to cope and told not to panic. Weddings, soccer matches, and many public events will be rescheduled or moved indoors.
In the middle of next month, the females will lay eggs in trees. The adults will all die. Their offspring will drop down to the ground and bury under the soil, for their own 17-year vigil.
"It's the grandest natural phenomenon of the century," said Gary Hevel, an entomologist at the Smithsonian Institution. "This is the largest brood of periodical cicadas. It is the big one, a matter of billions and trillions.
"People tend to be annoyed and fearful about the lack of knowledge. We are trying to get the word out that they are not dangerous. They crawl out of the ground. They mate. They lay eggs and then they die."
There are many species of periodical cicadas, but Brood X is by far the largest and most numerous, and its visitations are rites of passage for veteran Washingtonians. The trigger for their emergence is when the earth temperature reaches 64, which happened sometime on Monday.
Yesterday residents roamed the leafier parts of Washington spotting the husks of the early risers who had already taken to the trees fully-formed with amber wings after shedding their skins, and the corpses of those that had failed their one and only test.
"I was in school in 1954 and the noise was incredible," recalled Barbara Beelar, 62, who was born and raised in Washington. "You couldn't sleep at night. Everyone was sleep-deprived. It's a wonderful example of nature grabbing your attention.
"They crawl out. Their great hope is to meet someone from the other sex and then they die. If you look at those things you can see where a whole genre of horror stories came from."
When colonists first witnessed the phenomenon they thought it was a sign from God, akin to the 10 plagues in Egypt. But in recent decades reactions have been more relaxed.Two swarms ago, in 1970, Bob Dylan immortalised the cicadas with a song Day of the Locusts.
Others are even more enlightened. Jacques Tiziou, a French-American, was in his kitchen yesterday freezing his first cicadas. He said: "They are pure protein. No fat. There are plenty of countries where the only food is some form of insect.
"We in America could do a service to those countries and tell them how to be more efficient about catching cicadas. "ou can teach your family to keep them and maybe smoke them."
"We have billions of them. Go to Google and ask for cicada recipes. You are sent to 3,600 sites."
One fan set up a website, http://www.cicadamania.com. which was swamped with sightings.