UPDATE (May 10, 2013)
I have received many questions regarding the cicada emergence after my last blog post. I even chimed in on the online chat that was held in Fairfax County.
The main thing that came out of that chat was that "the emergence of cicadas in the D.C. area will be minimum and sparse through portions of Northern Virginia".
Wait, what? I thought they would be everywhere! While that is true in other locations around the region, it seems that they emergence of Brood II cicadas could be few and far between in the District itself.
According to Gary Hevel from the Department of Entomology at the Smithsonian, Brood II will contain three distinct species in this area.
"Oddly, Northern Virginia in 1996 (last year of Brood II) experienced large numbers of cicadas, while the District and Maryland had minimal numbers," he said. "Because emerging cicadas do not fly too far from their food sources (trees), this described pattern during this emergence will probably be quite similar.
"Exact numbers in the District would be impossible to predict, but D.C. residents can venture to northern Virginia to gain the unique experience of the cicada emergence."
Entomologist Michael Raupp from the University of Maryland agrees and shared with me his thoughts and thoughts from his colleague cicada guru John Zyla.
John produced a wonderful cicada map for our region that puts the nearest emergence of Brood II in Calvert, St. Mary’s, Fairfax, Fauquier, and Prince William Counties as seen below. Professor Raupp concurs with this distribution map; according to his website Bug Of The Week, "the blue/purple color 'II" are the locations that are mostly likely to be severely impacted by the cicadas this year"
Although sightings have already been reported in portions of Fredericksburg and Alexandria, the soil temperatures at 8 inches below the surface has dropped back into the upper 50s as of May 13th, according to the sensor from the cicada tracker at Sutron in Reston, which is a good indication of soil temps through the DC area.
- And with a potential frost/freeze on the way for Monday and Tuesday morning, we could see the emergence of the Brood II cicada pushed back even more this month.
Spring 1996: President Bill Clinton was about five months into his second term as president; Michael Jordan was back with the Chicago Bulls winning their 4th NBA Championship defeating the Seattle Supersonics, the average price of gas was $1.27 per gallon, Ted Kaczynski, suspected of being the Unabomber, was indicted on ten criminal counts, “The Nutty Professor" starring Eddie Murphy opens in theaters in the U.S. and Nintendo 64 goes on sale in Japan. There was also one other thing on the docket that spring that was plaguing the Mid Atlantic…..this:
Remember that noisy, chirping ugly gigantic insect that died within several weeks after its appearance leaving a blanket of carcasses around just for you to sweep up? Well get ready—because swarmaggedon is upon us once again.
Now just to recap, there are several thousand different species of cicadas throughout the world. Hunkered down below the soil for much of their lifespan, they eventually penetrate our ground in cycles operating on a 13 – 17 year emergence. The species that will emerge this year has not been seen since 1996, or 17 years ago, and is known as the Magicicada Brood II. The majority of their lives are spent underground as immature nymphs, sucking sap from tree roots to survive. The nymphs shed their exoskeletons soon after emerging from the ground and form into full adulthood above ground to breed.
These ugly (yes, I am totally judging) shrimp-size insects are known for their loud mating songs (7kHz), large transparent wings and their red beady eyes that are set wide apart. They will begin to carpet the Mid-Atlantic mostly likely in May this year and by the end of June should mostly be gone and not seen again (this particular species) for 17 years!
They are not harmful to humans and are even considered a delicacy by some people—(I’m talking to all you “high protein/low fat/no carb" dieters out there). Apparently their plant based diet gives them a “green, asparagus-like flavor when eaten raw or boiled” according to Gene Kritsky, a biologist and cicada expert from the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, OH. If you are really interested in trying them this year, check out these recipes, cooked up for you by Jenna Jadin, an Entomology major from the University of Maryland: Bug appetit to you brave souls.
Not only will the DMV be affected by these nuisances of nature, but Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania get in on the fun as well. You may have already seen a few holes in the ground around your yard, however, cicadas will begin to emerge once the soil temperatures at about 8.00” (or 20 centimeters) in depth warm to about 63°/64° degrees F (18°C).
Right now, for most of the area, our soil temperature is anywhere from 50° - 55°. Their bodies have to warm to that temperature threshold (Thermal Synchronization of Emergence) before they begin their trek through the ground and out of the soil around twilight on emergence day.
Cicada are cold blooded therefore they have to rely on warm air temperatures and/or direct sunlight to sing, mate and fly and their black skin color helps that process. The massive emergence by cicadas is based on their strategy of survival and is referred to as “predator satiation”. Pretty much, they reproduce by the millions in order to surprise and overwhelm their predators (birds, squirrels, snakes, lizards, raccoons, etc).
This ensures that enough survivors will be left behind to reproduce. If you dig in the right place, you can on average find about 30 to 50 nymphs in a hole about 1 square foot.
Now, even though cicadas are known to have zero defense mechanisms,
- they still cause issues from their smelly odor after they die off to the constant and loud piercing call. They also wreak havoc on young plants and trees because females lay eggs in the small areas of these plants causing them to split, wither and die or is referred to as “flagging”.
It is an interesting phenomenon, the female cicada egg laying device. The egg laying act by the female cicada is like a knife that cuts a slit right through the tree and/or plant and that slit is where she lays her eggs. Once the young tree or young plant starts to grow, that slit opens and the plant can die off.
So beware: if you are planning ANY outdoor activities this spring: graduation, wedding ceremony, backyard BBQ, the Magicicada Brood II cicada will be an uninvited guest, unless you have them as part of your meal.
If you are interested in tracking them or helping scientists track the invasion, head on over to Radiolab. Plenty of DIY type of projects for adults and kids during the cicada season. Happy hunting!