Day 8: Summer of the Cicada

A mature cicada (known as an "imago") on the left and its abandoned exoskeleton. This dude, along with about 600 of his friends, was found on a tree across the field from the Meeting Barn at Morven!

A mature cicada (known as an “imago”) on the left and its abandoned exoskeleton. This dude, along with about 600 of his friends, was found on a tree across the field from the Meeting Barn at Morven!

A strange sound has been getting louder and louder each day out at Morven. It started as a shrill and high-pitched call coming from way off in the distance, beginning at the edge of the forest, crossing the corn field, and finally reaching the ears of those here at the Summer Institute. It almost sounded like a car alarm from somewhere far away that just never stopped ringing.

But in these past few days, the sound has made its way over to the trees right across from the Meeting Barn at Morven, becoming more and more low pitched and buzzy-sounding as it does. And the culprit…or should I say, various many culprits…have been spotted!

It’s the cicadas!! What an odd bunch, they are. We are seeing Brood II of the 17-year periodical cicada (known as Magicicada). That’s right, this type of cicada only comes out every 17 years(!!) and, when they do, they’re only here for a couple of weeks! So what do they do for those 16 years and 11 months when they can’t be found? It’s pretty cool, actually — they are living underground as nymphs and sucking on the xylem (vascular tissue) of various species of tree roots. Just before they are ready to emerge, they build a tunnel that they then use to come to the surface.

So let me ease your nerves a bit about these bizarre creatures…they are NOT blood-sucking, crop-ruining, home-wrecking bugs, as they are sometimes falsely labeled to be. All of those rumors that these are scary bugs that you should keep your kids away from are totally unwarranted!

In actuality, cicadas can be a blessing for many predator species such as birds, foxes, raccoons, opossums, and even other bugs like beetles, wasps, and praying mantises! For those predator species that happen to be around the areas where the cicadas are emerging this year will surely be feasting! In fact, in many Chinese, Latin American, and African cultures, cicadas are skewered, roasted and eaten by humans! I knew a kid in middle school that microwaved one and plopped it in his mouth!

Cicadas themselves don’t eat very much besides a little plant sap, they are much more focused on finding mates so that they can reproduce in their short time above the ground. The male cicadas are the singers of the bunch, calling out just about 24/7 in the hopes of attracting a mate.

Once they are able to reproduce, the female cicada lays several hundred of her eggs in the bark of a twig, from which they will hatch and then fall to the ground, where they can burrow underneath the ground, starting the cycle all over again.

So you see, these little guys aren’t to be feared, though they may be quite high in number! My advice is to simply open your windows, kick back, and enjoy the sound of this cicada-filled summer! Because in just a few weeks time…they’ll be gone for another 13-17 years, and this is a natural phenomenon that you don’t want to miss!

Note: some of the information stated above was obtained from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicada

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