Periodical Cicadas

June 13, 2004


Provided by: Cindy Foster
Summary authors & editors: Jim Foster

Periodical cicadas are definitely the Rip Van Winkle of the subterranean world. The photo above shows the emergence of a few of the 17-year cicadas, which recently invaded a large portion of the Mid-West and Middle Atlantic states. Adults (with red eyes) escape their juvenile encasements and begin a several week period of courting. There can be as many as one million of these red-eyed critters per acre in heavily infested locales, typically in hardwood groves. In these areas, their sound (mating call or screech of the males) can be astounding -- decibel levels near 90. Fortunately, they neither sting nor bite, thought, their egg laying can injure young trees.

Prior to this spring, they've resided a foot or more below the surface, surviving on the juices of roots and staying nearly stationary, except to occasionally shed their armour. They've missed all of the above ground activity since the summer of 1987. President Reagan was in his second term when the last batch was upon us, no one had yet heard of the world wide web, Friends was still years from its first episode, and the Cubs and Red Sox won the World Series (ok, they didn't miss this yet).

Because they're such tasty little morsels (rich in protein), they required a means to arise from the earth without being totally consumed. Their strategy is to overwhelm any would be predators by popping out of the ground by the millions (referred to as predator satiation). This assures that a new cycle will occur and that those predators lucky enough to be around at the same time, will enjoy a memorable cicada feast.

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