Streams

The Cicadas Are Coming!

You can help WNYC track their emergence

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lurking in the ground beneath our feet, waiting in their burrows for the first signs of spring are tens of millions of cicadas.

After 17 years, cicadas are expected to emerge and overwhelm a large swath of land from Virginia to Connecticut — climbing up trees, flying in swarms and blanketing grassy areas so they crunch underfoot.

The insect, with its sinisterly bright red eyes and black body, can grow to about an inch and a half long. Include the bug’s clear wings and that could add about 2 inches.

But what’s really notable about the cicada is its loud, unrelenting noise. To imagine what it sounds like, Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an urban entomologist and a senior extension associate at Cornell University, says think of a plastic water bottle. “Push the plastic back and forth, it makes a click sound,” she said. “Imagine that going really quickly.”

That’s what we could be hearing for about a month this spring when Brood II emerges. (The periodical cicadas come every 13 or 17 years, depending on the brood. Brood II takes 17 years.)

As many as one million to five million cicadas can be found per acre, according to research scientist John Cooley from the University of Connecticut, Storrs. He also runs the website Magicada. When the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees, they start to make their way out of the ground and into our world.

WNYC is inviting armchair scientists, lovers of nature and DIY makers to help predict the emergence of cicadas by building a homemade sensor and sharing your observations.

While the periodic emergences are hard to miss because of the noise and the overwhelming numbers, it is hard to predict where and how many will actually come out because of habitat degradation.

Cicadas live in the ground, near trees. They feed off the roots of trees. And they only come out for a few weeks, during which time they will molt and then mate. The females will lay eggs that hatch and the nymphs will then burrow underground to start a new 17-year-cycle, while the adult cicadas die.

And despite their sinister appearance, Gangloff-Kaufmann says, they’re really harmless and kind of, well, hapless. “They’re bumbling cute,” she said. “Many people are afraid of them because of their size and the way they make noise. But, they can’t bite you or sting you or hurt you in any way.”

And Cooley is excited about the upcoming spectacle. “There’s nothing else like it out there. If you like insects, and large numbers of them, this is something special.”

And if you don’t, well, it should be over by August.

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Comments [13]

Bill

Where are they? Seriously, absolutely none here at the Jersey Shore, Belmar area. Totally disappointed.

Jun. 11 2013 04:40 PM
suzinne from Bronx

Cicadas are indeed the sound of summer. Having lived over forty years in the Bronx, my bedroom window was just outside a huge tree, so the hissing of these large and unattractive bugs was constantly in evidence. Can't say it bothered me much. It's rather zen like.

Mar. 21 2013 03:22 PM
Hilary from Brooklyn

Cicadas. Ugh. Have you ever dug them up in your garden? Revolting. They're like the baby aliens in the Alien films.

Their sound reminds me of the stultifying hot, long summers of my Texas childhood and still makes me feel claustrophobic. My family call them "hotbugs" since the sound is such an indicator of Summer's shank.

If you ever watched the campy Saturday morning show, "Land of the Lost", think of the sound of the Sleestaks. Very cicada.

Mar. 21 2013 01:12 PM
Kara from Chelsea

Why use the word "sinister", twice even in this article?

Mar. 21 2013 08:35 AM
laurence pringle from west nyack, ny

Yes, there are cicadas every summer, but 17-year cicadas are emerging this
June. Seventeen years underground, then about 4-5 weeks of adult life up in the air and sun, mating, and then die! Doesn't seem fair to me. You might want to see my book, Cicadas! Strange and Wonderful (Boyds Mills Press), which came out in 2010--just before 2011 when 13-year cicadas emerged in parts of 15 states. Also, a terrific source of cicada information is the
site Cicadamania.

Mar. 13 2013 08:39 AM
ljhs from Israel

Hey! Don't complain...we have swarms of locusts on the way.

Mar. 13 2013 05:57 AM
Vic from .

17 Year Ciacadas...
In the trees, in my ears...
I can hardly wait for their Singing~>
Singing~>Singing~>Singing~>Singing~>Singing

suddenly, my ears have gone quiet
what can it be...?
Doctor (?)

Mar. 13 2013 02:34 AM
John from Wantagh

Please answer this obvious question: isn't there a cicada emergence EVERY spring,
and what makes this year's any different than the other years' group?

And even more obviously: why seventeen?

Mar. 12 2013 05:59 PM
carolina from Park Slope

When talking about cicadas, you must include their predators, the cicada killer wasps. My garden is full of their nests, underground. One year I had so many that people would take their children across the street when they wanted to walk past my house because of the "bees", as they called them. The letter carrier refused to deliver letters. The air was full of them, mating. The ground was full of them burrowing out the soil and then flying up to a nearby elm and returning with a huge cicada that they deposited in the hole. I finally had to call an exterminator who poisoned the soil, dug up the grass and ruined my lawn. I still have the wasps to a lesser degree, but I feel bad about destroying so many, since they are harmless and beautiful and Mother Nature's children, just like you and me.

Mar. 11 2013 06:18 PM
Reader

Apparent typos:
"climbing up tress, flying in swarms and blanketing grassy areas so they crunch underfoot."

"tress" ?

"If you like inspects, and large numbers of them,"

"inspects"?

Mar. 11 2013 04:32 PM

Pamela,
The 17-year cycle is something we'll learn more about in a future blog post, so stay tuned. But a preview: in part, it has to do with avoiding predators.

Mar. 11 2013 03:34 PM
Pamela from Point Pleasant NJ

What is their purpose??? Why are they here if they hide for so many years. Science especially bugs were never my forte...

Mar. 11 2013 03:05 PM
Henryk Behnke, VP, Staten Island Museum from Staten Island

Find out more about the 17-year Cicada at the trusted source for everything cicada since 1881: the Staten Island Museum, which holds the largest Cicada Collection in North America, second in the world only to that of the British Museum.
Explore the exhibit http://www.statenislandmuseum.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/
and join one of the programs in May and June.
For questions about cicadas contact Ed Johnson, Director of Science at (718) 727-1135 or by email at ejohnson@statenislandmuseum.org.

Mar. 11 2013 01:17 PM

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