I heard them for the first time yesterday. Seems like a record – June 5. Is it the heated air? You know what I mean. How can you miss them? The dark, bulging eyes staring up at you? They’re out there, in the grass, on the shrubs, in the trees, all around – hundreds, even thousands of them. Don’t mean to scare you, but they’re back! Yes, the cicadas are back!
Cicadas are odd creatures. Large, seemingly sightless eyes, legs that grasp unnaturally (Have you ever let one crawl up your arm? Creepy!) They first show up as brown humped wingless insect nymphs resembling small Volkswagens crawling up tree trunks, shrubs, fence posts, even clothes hanging on lines.
Moms lay eggs in twigs and the hatching nymphs drop to the soil where they burrow underground. There for 1-17 years depending on the species, they have been tunneling around (good for soil structure) sucking on root sap (not good on plants, but not necessarily damaging) and have grown from ant-sized specs to bumblebee-sized nymphs. In spring, they emerge from the soil and climb up to split out of their nymph shell into a cicada adult.
The Dog Day cicada – or annual cicada – is about 2 inches in length with dark eyes, which are greenish. It emerges in July and August. Periodical cicadas are smaller with red eyes and a body with red and black. Periodicals are so named because the broods emerge in 13-year or 17-year cycles. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation Forest Entomologist Rob Lawrence, periodical cicadas pose no threat to people and minimal threats to trees. MDC foresters do not recommend using insecticides for cicadas.
The males are the ones that do the singing in order to attract the females. Something like a male gorilla beating his chest to make noise for the females, male cicadas use their abdomens, as well. They rapidly flex two drum-like structures in their abdomens called tymbals. (Think of having bongo drums in your chest.) The flexing produces a click, and the clicks come so fast it produces a raspy hum. They are daytime singers with the loudest droning occurring during the hottest part of the day.
Obviously, cicadas will only be emerging where there were trees or shrubs during the years when the eggs were laid. If the land was being plowed in a field, or if the land has been developed and building constructed there will not be cicadas emerging.
Also, droughts can affect many areas where cicada nymphs are under the soil level. At times, large cicada emergences can be a feast for creatures that eat insects. Wild turkeys devour them; and even fish will eat nymphs that fall into the water from trees above.
Growing up in the Midwest, I have many memories of hearing the summer cicada-melody. Perhaps you do, too. There is nothing like sitting outside in the shade on cooler evenings and listening to the beautiful natural concerts.
– Reach Lynn Youngblood at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.