Year Of The Cicada –  What Are Cicada’s And Their Cycles About?

The summer months have a special, distinct sound to them: lawn mowers, sprinklers, children running and playing, plus birds chirping – almost every day! There is, however, another very specific noise that has been part of our lives in the summertime for generations; the sounds of the male cicadas rattling off their mating and communication buzzing noise. It always seems to be the loudest when it’s hot and there’s maximum daylight, and it affects everyone throughout the United States and parts of North America. Its distinct rattle and hiss sounds like a million maracas shaking all at the same time, sped up times two! Get ready; because some areas of the US will get even louder because 2020 is a year of a great cicada emergence!

Cicada Emergent Cycles

Eric Day of the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology tells the Virginia Tech Daily; “Communities and farms with large numbers of cicadas emerging at once may have a substantial noise issue,” due to 2020 also coinciding with one of the species’ 17-year “emergence” from underground. Not all cicadas are the same, and are made up of separate “broods”. Most of the cicada’s life is spent underground, where mom and dad created them as babies, who at that time are known as “nymphs”. The nymphs grow underground and then emerge either periodically or annually.

The periodically emerging broods can emerge from every 13 or 17 years. Other broods emerge annually or every two to five years, and are also known as Dog-day cicadas. What this all means is you’ll most likely never escape their enchanting screech that can start in May and continue through October.

Scientists and bug experts are still discovering more as to why the different broods of cicadas have such different life cycles and patterns of emergence; but the growing scientific consensus says the cicadas are trying to emerge when they have less predators and more opportunities to mate. But, they face an uphill battle; as pets, rodents, reptiles, birds, fish – even other insects arachnids love to hunt for cicadas to eat. Some insects are known specifically for preying on cicadas like the “Cicada Killer Wasps”. Those wasps gain the nickname for their love of capturing cicadas and later feeding them to their wasp larvae. Yuck.

Cicadas Were Around With The Dinosaurs

The cicada species is considered a superfamily, called the Cicadoidea (or Cicadidae), according to the Iowa State University’s Entomology Department. They’re so old there are fossilized cicada records found in the same time period as the dinosaurs – some 140 million years ago or so. The cicadas super group emerging this year have prominent red eyes set wide apart, short antennae, and front wings. The songs they produce are part of their mating ritual; as the male cicadas use their muscles to create a rapid buckling and unbuckling of their drumlike “tymbals” extremely fast to produce the “singing” noise, which is meant to impress some potential female cicada mates. Like a church choir, the males sing together; and this year, we’re talking millions!

Annoying Everywhere, But Harmless To People

The mega-brood emerging this year, at the end of their 17-year lifecycle, are part of “Brood IX (nine)” which means those millions of cicadas are coming out in southwestern Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia. For those who live in those areas, the songs cicadas produce can be annoying – even painful for frequent migraine or headache sufferers. But the most important part to remember is these bugs are completely harmless to us or your pets. Their long history here on earth is a testament to their support of our worldwide ecosystem, so rest assured that they will not jump out to scare and attack you. But, just because they aren’t a physical threat to us, doesn’t mean they can’t become a nuisance.

Cicadas only live for two to four weeks as adults but, during that time, can cause significant damage to young trees that may be in your area. You’ll know if there are nearby cicadas that hatched because the nymphs tend to leave their old, outgrown shells near window screens, tree trunks, plant stems, gutters, and near blades of tall grass. Some farmers see cicadas as a major threat to their livelihood, as some of the cicada’s favorite feeding and breeding spots are near young apple, dogwood, peach, hickory, cherry and pear trees. They can also be found near vines and saplings where the female cicadas lay their eggs.

While some in the US may fall victim to an especially loud cicada mating season this year, at least you’ll know it will mostly be nothing more than a loud nuisance. Cicadas are not interested in interfering with our lives and are actually a sweet treat for many birds and animals in your local ecosystem. This year has posed a lot of challenges, but at least there will be some natural background noise to drown it all out.

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