Cicadas Begin Cyclic Racket

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Wed, 04/23/2008 - 3:27pm.

Brood making first appearance in 17 years. 

We've had drought and floods, and now, a plague of locusts.

OK, the billions of noisy, red-eyed teenagers emerging soon from the ground beneath your feet aren't really locusts, although they often are mistakenly called that.

They are 17-year cicadas (si-KAY-das), making their first appearance since 1991.

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To learn more about cicadas in Kentucky, go to www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entomology.php and enter "cicadas" in the search field.
To report a cicada sighting for Gene Kritsky's research, go to
www.msj.edu/cicada.

 

They have been subsisting on the sap from tree roots for all these years, waiting for some strange alarm clock to ring. They probably will break the surface after a rain, when the soil is soft and has reached 64 degrees.

Last time around, they started showing up in Kentucky on May 11, said Gene Kritsky, a cicada expert who teaches at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati.

The long-range trend has been toward earlier emergences, which Kritsky says is "another example where wildlife is telling us things are a little warmer than they were."

John MacGregor, a herpetologist who works for the state and spends a lot of time in the woods turning over logs and rocks, says he has noticed a lot of them just below the surface, getting ready for their brief time in the sun.

If it seems as if you hear of cicadas more often than every 17 years, that's because there at least 30 broods that appear at various and sometimes overlapping places and times.

And some come out every 13 years. There also are three species within each brood, each with a different song. And there are annual cicadas that appear every year. It's all pretty confusing, but also amazing. We're talking about insects that went into the ground as the Soviet Union was falling apart.

The cicadas about to show now are Brood XIV. Brood X appeared in 2004, and, for reasons not fully understood, may have brought some of Brood XIV up with them.

Brood XIV is centered on the eastern two-thirds of Kentucky, although they are also in 11 other states. They might have been the brood that was noticed by the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Mass., in 1634.

Their appearance will be spotty, Kritsky said. That could be caused by a number of factors, including development that has dramatically changed landscapes since the early 1990s.

A cicada emergence is bad news for people who don't like bugs. It is good news for wildlife such as trout, and wild turkeys that will grow fat on the insects -- and for people who like to fish and hunt.

People have eaten cicadas, but not often. A ranger at the Daniel Boone National Forest once described the taste as "kind of like roaches smell when you smash them." Kritsky is kinder; he says they remind him of canned asparagus.

Cicadas don't bite or sting. They don't even eat during their above-ground life stage. But their singing can drive people to distraction.

They come out of the ground as moist white nymphs, aerating the soils as they make their way to the surface. Then they crawl up a wall, tree or some other vertical surface and begin a two-hour transformation into adults with wings. The dried nymphal skin is left behind.

A couple of days later, males begin to sing to attract females. This is where the noise comes from.

After mating, females cut slits in twigs and lay about 400 eggs. This is variously viewed as damaging trees, especially fruit trees, or providing a natural pruning.

The eggs hatch six to eight weeks later, and the next generation of nymphs falls to the ground and begin burrowing toward a 17-year sleep.


On the Net ~
To learn more about cicadas in Kentucky, go to
www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entomology.php and enter "cicadas" in the search field.

To report a cicada sighting for Gene Kritsky's research, go to www.msj.edu/cicada.


Reach Andy Mead at (859) 231-3319 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3319.

*****

Andy Mead - April 22, 2008 - posted at  www.kentucky.com/779/

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Wed, 04/23/2008 - 3:27pm.