June 03, 2013

Cicadas emerge following 17-year rest

The Rip Van Winkle of the insect world awakes

Photo by Mary Linkevich.

The Rip Van Winkle of the insect world has emerged across Hawk Mountain: the highly punctual and incredibly loud periodical Brood II Cicada, a native North American insect that continues to puzzle biologists with its amazing 17-year lifecycle. These winged insects were born in 1996 when their mothers laid eggs in the twigs of trees. There, they developed for a few weeks before hatching and dropping to the ground where they burrowed into the ground.

Cicadas spend the bulk of their lives buried, and live for 17 years in the nymph stage while they feed upon sap from tree roots. Their years underground make them one of the longest lived insects, and allows them to emerge and reproduce in bulk. Once they do reappear, they live for only a few weeks with the single-minded goal of mating.

That is, assuming they don't become someone else's snack.

Cicadas should not be confused with locusts. The adults do not feed on leaves, and cicadas do not damage forests or crops. In fact, the only noticeable damage occurs when twigs are sometimes split during egg laying. They do, however, provide a bountiful surprise supply of protein for forest birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. In fact, the reason Cicadas emerge by the thousands at once is to ensure their survival. With relatively no defense mechanisms, the bugs are easy prey for forest predators of any size, and only thanks to their sheer numbers, some are sure to survive.

With their huge wings, fat bodies and blood-red eyes, cicadas arn't pretty, but they're also completely harmless to human beings and just about anything else. They do have a long proboscis which they use to insert into a plant stem. If one stays on your hand long enough, it may try the same on your skin, but it’s unlikely to hurt. And really—why would you let it stay there to begin with?

For that reason, it's very important not to use pesticides to kill the cicadas. They live for a very short time, and the young very quickly disappear underground. Using pesticides on the cicadas will only poison the birds and other animals that prey upon them.

If bugs aren't your thing, never fear. The newly hatched cicadas soon will drop to the ground, burrow down and disappear, not to be seen again until 2030. 

For more information:

Cozen O'Connor