The natural history:
Periodic cicadas, incorrectly called "locusts" by colonial Americans who likened the mass emergences to the Biblical plagues, spend most of their lives underground in a series of nymph stages. The immature cicadas feed on the sap of tree roots until they reach adulthood in 13 or 17 years, depending on their species. They emerge in the spring to molt, fly, sing, breed, and die, all in the span of 4 to 6 weeks.
Each group of cicadas that emerges together is called a brood, and each brood can consist of more than one species. The brood that emerged in 1893 and every 17 years after that was designated as Brood I, the brood that emerged in 1894 was called Brood II, etc. This year is Brood XIV's day in the sun.
The back story:
I moved to the Cincinnati area in 1987, at the tail end of the eruption of Brood X. (As in Roman numeral "10," not as in "The X Factor.") Having grown up in eastern Ohio, I remembered them from my childhood, but hadn't lived in cicada country for many years. I was sorry I had missed them.
In 2004, the majority of southwestern Ohio experienced the next wave of Brood X. Although I heard them as I drove around, and even saw a few, I was disappointed to find out my home was too far east to experience the full effect. Studying the maps, I found out I would be in line for Brood XIV (14) in 2008. For 4 years, I have anticipated the arrival of "my" cicadas.
When I established an active Purple Martin colony last summer, I was even more psyched for cicadas, knowing they would be great martin food, and should be emerging at the beginning of breeding season. Good nutrition for breeding martins would mean a bumper crop of babies.
As the Great Day (mid-May) approached, I looked for the tiny holes in the wet ground that would mean emerging cicadas, tried to find the dried shells of newly metamorphed adults, and listened for the song of the breeding males. Nothing.
Finally, last week, I could hear a faint humming sound in the woods behind my pond and horse pasture, but I still hadn't seen a red-eyed bug.
My technician took pity on me and captured three of the critters from her home. She put them in one of those little "bug houses" for kids and took them indoors. Her four year old son said, "Oooh! Buggies!" When she brought them into the office for me, I exclaimed, "Oooh! Cicadas!" It's official. I'm a four year old kid.
I brought them home and put them on my tree. (My sister says that makes it official. I'm weird.) Maybe so, but still, aren't they cool?
You've gotta love those red eyes!
Even I can admit that there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to cicadas. Last Sunday, on my road trip to Charlie's Pond (to not see or hear the Black Rail) I made a couple of stops. At both places, there were cicadas everywhere, and they were deafening. Cicadas in the trees, cicadas in the air, cicadas landing on my drink cup, even cicadas in the ladies' room.
You could hardly have a conversation over the incessant "song" in the air, and the bases of the trees were littered with the dead and dying bodies of spent cicadas, mingled with the molted skins the emerging nymphs left behind.
Fun cicada facts:
Cicadas do not bite or sting, not do they carry diseases.
Adult cicadas don't eat at all, though they do drink.
Only the males sing, by vibrating their abdomens.
The genus of this year's cicadas is Magicicada.
Cicadas are edible. Really! Those who have tried them say its best to eat the newly-emerged adults which have just shed their skin, since they are softer. There are many recipes using these insects, including Chocolate Cicadas and Cincinnati Cicada Stir Fry, but even I am not crazy enough to eat cicadas. For someone who is, click here.
Veterinary advice on cicadas:
Many dogs, and some cats, enjoy a cicada snack. Since the hard bits of the cicada, which consist of chitin, are not digestible, vomiting is a common result. In rare cases, the chitinous material may accumulate in the digestive tract, causing a foreign body obstruction. If your dog vomits a pile of cicada parts and is normal afterwards, there are no concerns. But, if the vomiting is protracted, if your pet has no appetite and is lethargic or appears to be in pain, it should be seen by your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency service.
For more cicada fun, go to Dr. Gene Kritsky's cicada website. Dr. Kritsky, from the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, is the acknowledged cicada expert.
Next time we will have cicadas in SW Ohio will be 2021, when Brood X returns. Can't wait!