The Cicadas Are Coming…

Some teenage favorites are showing up in Cleveland this summer. The Steve Miller Band, Chicago, Cheap Trick, and Deep Purple are all in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016. These names may not resonate with today’s teenagers, but they rocked the teens of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.

ccA mob of noisy 17-year olds will soon pop up in Cleveland, and I don’t mean protesters at the Republican Convention.  Some fans consider this group the essential soundtrack of summer.Magicicada is coming in mid-May, and the “magic” portion of their formal name fits their life story. For about a month they will be serenading all over the eastern half of Ohio.

This group has been underground and unnoticed for a long time, but they’re about to make their break to the top. When they first appear they’re likely to be pale and red-eyed, but once they get a little exposure that will change. While the brood consists of males and females, all the vocals come from the males. As is often the case, the songs’ purpose is mainly to attract females.

So much for the metaphors…Magicicada is not a music group, but the brood of cicadas that lives in the eastern half of Ohio as well as parts of the neighboring states. This is year 17 for them, so they’ll be having a huge coming-out party before long. As the soil warms they will begin to work their way toward the surface from the tree roots that they’ve been feeding on since they dropped from the tree’s branches seventeen years ago.

One evening when the soil temperature has reached 65 degrees they will creep out of the dime-sized hole they’ve dug and climb up the nearest tree (or reasonable substitute…I’ve seen them on posts and walls.) There they will burst the seam of their overcoat and leave it hanging while they pause to spread and dry the wings that they’ve just uncovered. Once that’s done, they’ll climb or fly higher into the tree to find some cover and some food.

Their food is plant sap, and they reach it thru a straw-like mouth part that can penetrate roots or leaves. Their feeding doesn’t injure the plant, and it can’t injure anything else, either. However, once the serenading is over and the males have bred the females, egg-laying begins…and that can be a little tough on trees.

Females lay their eggs in slits they make in twigs, and one female can make a thirty or more of these half-inch long slits. Each slit contains a dozen or more eggs, and later in the summer the eggs hatch and the tiny nymphs drop to the ground and dig in. Meanwhile, the twig often dries out and dies, which is at best a little unsightly for mature trees and at worst fatal for heavily infested small trees. Cheesecloth or fine-mesh netting is the best protection for small trees in a brood’s emergence year.

Every year there’s another species of cicada that shows up later in the summer. It’s known as the annual cicada or dog-day cicada, and while individually it’s just as noisy as the 17-year species, it’s nowhere near as numerous. That’s all we’ll be hearing and seeing around Dayton this year…our 17-year brood doesn’t come out for another five years. Maybe, if we’ve listened to much rock ‘n roll in our teenage years, we won’t be able to hear them by then!

Magicicada nymph molting from Roy Troutman on Vimeo.

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