Nature Phenomenon Coming Our Way!
by Jill McDonald
Behold! An amazing natural phenomenon is about to occur! Witnessing the sights and sounds of this unique species happens only once every 17 years! Let’s get ready to immerse ourselves in the joys of the periodical cicadas!
These magnificent insects will amaze your senses! As the males seek a mate, they will gloriously sing their best cicada songs by vibrating membranes on their abdomens, filling the air with their musical buzzing from high in the treetops. When the females are intrigued by a male, they will respond with a soft clicking sound by flicking their wings.
Not only will their sound amaze you, but they are definitely a sight to behold as well. Unlike our annual cicadas with their light green bodies, periodical cicadas are easy to distinguish with their dark black body, bright orange wing edges, and beady red eyes.
Otherwise known as Brood X (as in Roman numeral 10), these periodical cicadas are set to emerge en masse in mid-to late May in northern Indiana. The timing of their appearance varies by location, though a major indicator is when ground temperatures reach 64 degrees Fahrenheit and often after a soaking rain. Hotspot predictions indicate three major areas are set to witness this amazing phenomenon, according to periodical cicada expert Dr. Gene Kritsky, who is also the Dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati.
The three major hotspot areas include at least parts of:
- Indiana – Illinois – Ohio – Kentucky
- Tennessee – North Carolina – Georgia
- Pennsylvania – New York – Maryland – Delaware – New Jersey
- And, though not hotspots, parts of Virginia – West Virginia – Michigan should see some cicada activity.
According to an article on www.atlasobscura.com, “There are several groups of so-called periodical cicadas that emerge en masse at regular intervals. Across the Midwestern, Southern, and Eastern United States, 15 different broods—each assigned a Roman numeral—emerge in 13- or 17-year increments.”
Once emerged, their life cycle lasts about four to six weeks. When cicadas emerge their sole purpose is to mate and lay eggs, and then they die. The eggs are laid in thin tree branches and when they hatch, the young nymphs fall to the ground and burrow in the soil, where they will live until they emerge as adults, 17-years later.
Often confused with locusts, cicadas do not eat nor destroy crops. Adult cicadas do not eat solid food, though they will drink fluids to avoid dehydration. Cicadas can harm young trees when they lay their eggs in the new growth. If you are concerned about young trees in your yard, simply cover them with mesh netting or cheesecloth, tied near the base, or loosely cover individual branches. Spraying is not recommended, as they fly between trees.
“Periodical cicadas are actually quite beneficial to the ecology of the region,” according to Dr. Kritsky. They encourage new tree growth in the following year, as the females’ egg laying in tree branches provide natural pruning. These cicadas also naturally aerate the soil with their emergence tunnels, provide food to their many predators with their large numbers, and their decaying bodies provide nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil.
So how will these cicadas affect our local Buchanan, MI and surrounding area you ask? Some predictions highlight all of Indiana as a hotspot, however other maps highlight southern Indiana. Since Buchanan sits near the Indiana border, we are obviously close to a hotspot state. So we will simply have to wait and see if we are lucky enough to witness this spectacle, without having to make a day trip.
If you’re up for an adventure, you can download an app called Cicada Safari, created by Dr. Kritsky, to help track and map their emergence locations. For a link to the app and loads of great information, check out his site at https://cicadasafari.org.
If you’re super adventuresome and have a diverse palette, apparently they are edible. However, research more information and consume at your own risk.
Among all this amazing cicada information, I hope you enjoy the uniqueness of the coming cicadas! To me, cicada songs are a sure sign of warming weather, as we inch closer to summer. If you’re not a fan of insects, be assured that they do not bite nor sting.
Wishing you the most fun and memorable Brood X season!
Jill K. McDonald is a freelance nature & travel educator, writer, photographer, and speaker. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with her on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/naturetravelerjillmcdonald.