Watching for cicadas

Adult periodical cicada by Bruce Marlin

An adult periodical cicada. The red eyes really make the look.

Perhaps arriving soon: the periodical cicada. A "brood" of the fantastically weird insects -- that climb from the ground every 17 years to molt, sing, mate, lay their eggs, and die -- are emerging along the East Coast this month. And we could see some of them in the Capital Region.

This particular cohort of cicadas -- Brood II, or "The East Coast Brood" -- last emerged in 1996. In previous appearances, its range has stretched from North Carolina to northern New York.

The bugs make their appearance after the ground 8-inches down reaches a consistent temperature of 64-degrees. The public radio program Radiolab has enlisted the help of listeners with homebuilt sensors to track ground temps and cicada sightings. According to its (limited) data for this area, the ground is approaching the right temp -- and cicadas have been spotted in the Hudson Valley. Here's another map aggregating reports, from magicicada.org (magicada is the genus for the bugs).

Cicada Brood II 1863 map
An 1863 map tracking the range of Brood II. More recently some researchers have wondered whether brood ranges are changing -- or just that there's better, more systematic tracking now. [American Entomologist 2009]

It'll be interesting to see what pops up here, because we're right on the edge of the northern range. Historical accounts report broods being active in the Capital Region. The 26th Report of the State Entomologist on Injurious and Other Insects of the State of New York (1910) includes reports of the insects in Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Washington counties -- in some cases "very abundant" numbers. A clip:

Albany county Near Albany Cicadas were extremely abundant in Graceland Cemetery, Normansville; were heard at Clarksville by J. Shafer Bartlett; evidences of their work were observed in Coeymans near Coeymans creek from the West Shore Railroad and they were reported from Dunnsville by the Albany Evening Journal. A complaint of injury by this insect to orchard trees was received from Mrs E. K. V. Vanderzee who lives near Feura Bush. Cicadas were very abundant at Kenwood just south of Albany and numerous in Wildwood valley and probably other sections of the Albany Rural Cemetery at Menands. The insects appeared to be rather generally distributed in Ravena here and there southward to the Greene county line. Mr Bronk Van Slyke of Ravena states that they were present in his orchard and that seventeen years ago they were very numerous seriously injuring it, and that on the occasion of the preceding appearance thirty-four years ago the insects destroyed a nearby orchard. Cicadas were reported in 1894 from New Scotland Voorheesville and Bethlehem Center in addition to some of those named above. It is very probable that it also appeared in these localities in 1911.

But even back around the beginning of the 1900s, reports indicated the numbers seen here were declining. The last time they appeared, there some spotted in southern Albany County. [TU]

Cicadas are generally harmless -- they don't bite (in fact, they only feed underground). But there can be huge numbers of them in an area, and their collective mating call can be really loud. They lay their eggs in the small branches of trees, which can cause some damage, especially to fruit trees. (Sometimes people cover young trees with mesh to to keep the bugs off them.) [Baltimore Sun 2004] [Penn State Extension]

The emergence of the cicadas can be a feast for animals. Among those animals: people. Yep. From a 2004 University of Maryland pamphlet on eating cicadas:

They contain a high protein content, and since cicadas eat only vegetable matter, they are a pure and wholesome food source. Additionally, they are said to be tasty, having a delicate nutty flavor.

That pamphlet also includes recipes for such items as "Emergence Cookies" -- "These should look like cicadas emerging out of a little pile of chunky mud!"

Cicada photo: Bruce Marlin via Wikipedia (cc)
Historical map: Marlatt, C. L. (Charles Lester), 1863 via USDA via Wikipedia

Comments

The scientist in me says "cool!" But I was also traumatized by the 1985 Brood VIII invasion in western PA as a kid, where you couldn't walk outside without crunching the suckers, they flew into your hair, and my brother spent hours "playing" with them. So I shudder inside and hope we don't see any here!

found one this morning in voorheesville ny

I've seen exactly three this summer and, of those, two were dead on the Lark Street sidewalk.

My partner's parents live downstate; ten minutes south of West Point, to be exact. And his mother says they've had a LOT of cicadas there. She hasn't been able to use her back deck most of the summer and her dog is going nuts over them.

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