Here come the Cicadas! Cicada facts, fun, and photos
In May and June, the Eastern part of the US will have a rare happening - the Arrival of the 17-year Cicadas
Okay - you may not like bugs. And if you aren't on the east coast you may not see this crowd, sweetly named "Brood II" by the insect scientists, but this is an event you should know about! Might even be worth a trip east... because after 17 years of growing underground, the red eyed "Magicicadas" are about to emerge from underground to serenade us with their song. Imagine if kids just grew underground for 17 years and then emerged as a teenager! Now that would be a shock for all of us.
Here you will learn all about the Magicicadas, their fun aspects, and some interesting science, so you can welcome their arrival with more than aggravation. Check out these cool bugs!
(photo in public domain)
First the facts - Will it be like a locust invasion? - Are they like zombies and will they bite?
The news sells itself on scare tactics and horror. There are lots of articles out there that talk about the emergence of the 17 year cicada in May 2013 as a horror show. "Billions of cicadas will emerge and overrun the east coast," and tell us that there will be so many that the population of the states from North Carolina to Connecticut will be outnumbered 600 to 1.
The truth is: here are a lot of insects out there. And insects outnumber us, maybe 200 million to one. An article in the New York Times reported scientists calculation that the world holds 300 pounds of insects for every pound of humans. So this "infestation" is not really that major - you might see some damaged leaves on your trees, but you also might not even see them. Relax.
The truth is: Cicadas are not nasty - they don't eat everything green in sight like locusts and they don't bite. They don't move around in swarms and they are only really interested in young trees.
What they really want to do is mate, and they have had to wait 17 years to get it! When the ground temperature reaches 64 degrees, and all the danger of frost is over, they will come out and mate. Their life isn't so long - and they will spend it in the trees. Then they will die and their babies will go back underground to suck on tree roots just like a baby bottle, and stay there for another 17 years growing just like their parents did. Then this brood will emerge in 2030.
Cicada photos from the USDA GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
You don't live on the East Coast of the US? - You can get a feeling for it here...
Don't live in the East and want to know what you are missing? This will give you the full sound-scape.
Good book for kids who are interested.
How do you tell a 17 year cicada from an annual cicada? - Look at this cutie
If the cicada has black eyes, it is not a magicada. This friendly critter is an annual cicada, and comes out every year.
Some 17 year Cicada Facts
- It is rare to see this cicada. They live 2-3 feet underground and only come out every 17 years. This is a great opportunity! They are here just to shed their skins, sing loudly to find their sweethearts, and lay eggs. That lasts about a month. Then they die, but the babies are busy deep in the soil drinking tree sap from the roots for the next 16 years before they come again.
- They don't eat everything green in sight like locusts. They make holes in the tree bark and drink the sap. They also make slits in the bark and park their eggs there. It takes 6 weeks for the babies to hatch, fall off the tree, and go back into the soil for another 17 years.
- Should you protect anything? Yes, your young trees. You can put nets around the trees, or pick off the cicadas with chopsticks if the tree is very small. They don't hurt the regular garden plants.
- They don't bite or hurt people and won't bother your pets. Your pets may be interested in trying them out for a snack, though. The only potentially aggravating thing about them is their sound.
- To be very honest, if you hold them for a long long time and they think you might be a tree, they might try to suck a little "tree sap" from your finger. That might hurt a little. You might enjoy holding them on a twig instead. ;-)
- Their sound can be as loud as a lawn mower, but it is just the male singing love songs to attract the ladies. The noise is made by vibrating a set of membranes which are located on the side of his body just under the wings.
- They leave behind brown casings, which are the skin they shed after leaving the ground. They can be stinky if you get piles of them, but they make great compost.
A cicada shedding its skin captured on video - Check this out and be inspired!
Sweet - we get to see a cicada molting, shedding its skin so it can carry on with its love life. It doesn't take long to change clothes, which is why you don't see it often.
This video is from a sequence of photos on Wikipedia, courtesy of T. Nathan Mundhenk, the photographer.
Cicadas are a sign of new life and resurrection in Asia
A Jade Cicada from the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), China. In ancient China people thought that the cicada represented a symbol of rebirth. It is easy to see why when you watch the video of the cicada hatching. Doesn't it look like it is being reborn?
This picture is from the
The Avery Brundage Collection, B60J583
THE ASIAN ART MUSEUM
200 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94102
All about cicadas - This video is short - and really fun
This video has lots of information on the upcoming 17 year cicada arrival, and even has photos of chocolate cicadas! They are high in protein and low in fats. No carbohydrates. So if you are on a diet, well...
Some fun links!
- Cicada cooking recipes for the courageous
Want to try cooking with cicadas? This recipe book is from the University of Maryland Cicadamaniacs. Insects are edible, and are eaten all over the world. Here is your chance to try eating cicadas if you are very very brave.
- Cicada love songs
Their songs are really quite different. Check out their love songs...
- Document your cicadas and send the information here
Want to participate in cicada documentation? This is the site!
- For bug enthusiasts - how to keep a collection
Are you a bug collector? This is how to keep them forever...
Our future as bug eaters...
- Eat insects to fight world hunger, improve nutrition, and reduce pollution
An enlightening article, with a photo of a gourmet bug dish.
- In 20 years will we be eating bugs?
Caterpillars, grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets are all possibilities for new food sources.
What to do if you get a lot of dead cicadas on your lawn
If you have had a lot of cicadas on your property, you may notice a stinky smell. This is easy to fix. Just rake them up and bury them - they make excellent compost!