Posts Tagged 'cicadas'


Sphecius speciosusThe Cicada Killer Wasps (Sphecius speciosus) are out and about now, collecting pollen at flowers to eat, stabbing cicadas for their young…TibicenI’m not telling, but here’s a Dog Day cicada (genus Tibicen), more heard than seen by we ground-huggers.Sphecius speciosusThe two wasps pictured above are males. They’re smaller than the females. Sphecius speciosusHere’s a female, scare-the-horses-ginormous, patrolling her tunnel of a nest under some Bearberry (Arctostaphylos ova-ursi) in the Pine Barrens section of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

‘Till Next Time

magicicadaMany of the Magicicadas never had a chance.c3But those that did survive to breed have laid their eggs by now, setting in process yet again the long-term strategy of this genus of periodical cicada. The eggs are planted in branches. Once they hatch, the tiny nymphs will drop down to the ground, to burrow into the earth and grow for the next 17 years.cic1They will suck on tree roots, hidden away from us, by the millions, telling time by the seasonal changes in the growing trees. Counting down… where will I be in 17 years? Where will you be? exit

Nymph, in thy orisons

nymphsNymphal husks of the Dog Day or Annual Cicada (Tibicen sp.), and the Periodic, 17-Year Cicada (Magicicada sp.). The Dog Day husk is from last August, if not the one before that, but its toes are still quite sharp. They don’t cut the skin, but they sure do cling to the little nooks and crannies.nymphsTibicen on the left. A bigger animal in every way. Center and right are Magicicada. Note the slight size differential between these two Magicicada husks. I can’t tell the husks apart, but there are three species expected on Staten Island: M. septendecim, M.cassini, M, septendecula. This is the guide I’m using for the adults. They all have different songs.wingsCicada adults have two pairs of wings. This is one pair, one of many we saw Monday; most predators rip or clip these off, and all the recipes you see are for the de-winged insects. wingsMagicicada forewing and hindwing (or underwing).


MagicicadaSeventeen years later, the genus Magicicada cicadas have emerged for the brief but glorious finale to their lives. Staten Island is the local epicenter for Brood II. Yesterday, Chris the Flatbush Gardener and I went in search of them, following an article in the Times that sent us to Clove Lakes Park. We scouted the north end of the park and found no sign of them. We went down to the southern end of Clove Lakes, and parked on Royal Oak Road, across the street from the park. The car was beside a tree, the front right wheel close to the curb. I called Chris’s attention to this, so that we wouldn’t run into a piece of broken curb on the way out. Then, looking down, I said, “They’re everywhere!”MagicicadaAll over the grassy bit between the road and sidewalk; there were easily thousands of them to be seen as we walked a few blocks. Most were the shed nymphal husks, split down the back.Magicicada MagicicadaMany of the husks were on the ground, but some were still attached to the trees. They climb up to latch onto something before they transform into adults, which essentially break out of the body of the nymph.MagicicadaThere were also bits and pieces of the adult cicadas all over the place.arm3They are being devoured, by pretty much everybody: birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians; (“Not by me!” says a friend emphatically). Their massive numbers are their strategy for getting through this gauntlet of predators.MagicicadaWe neither saw, nor heard, a single live adult. Those that survived the rough passage from nymph to adult, and into the safety of the trees, were quiet. We need some more heat, and more cicadas, before the roaring begins. This week is going to get hot and I suspect the next two weeks will be cicadamaniacal. We did find one living nymph. It’s on my arm in the picture at the beginning of this post, as well as here:MagicicadaThe tiny bark-grasping feet create an interesting sensation on the skin. But they’re harmless. Although this one did seem to excrete on me…


“The air here is filled with their din. They come out of the ground at first in an imperfect state, and crawling up the shrubs and plants the perfect insects burst out through the back…. Their din is heard by those who sail along the shore from the distant woods. Phar-r-r-oh. Phar-r-oh.” ~ Henry David Thoreau, during the 1843 emergence of Brood II on Staten Island, where he was living at the time.

There are three species of periodical cicadas on Staten Island, our local epicenter for Brood II’s emergence this year: Magicicada septendecim, the most common and widespread species; M. cassinii; and M. septendecula, first recognized on the island in 1979. Staten Island is a hot spot for cicadas in more ways than one. Local naturalist William T. Davis was one of the world’s premier cicada specialists, naming many new species and building up one of the great world collection of cicadas:cicadasA selection of North American cicadas from the Staten Island Museum‘s collection. Visit the museum’s cicada blog for more information.mud chimneysThese are some samples of the mud chimneys the Magicicada nymphs build as they prepare to emerge from their long subterranean portion of their lives.

But what’s up with the periodicalness of periodical cicadas? They come in two flavors: 13 and 17 year. (Annual cicadas are also periodical, emerging every 3-7 years or so, depending on the species; one brood or another is emerging every year, though, so these are always with us.) Brood II is a 17-year emergence. But the animals may switch back and forth, alternating between 13 and 17 years, depending on climate and other cues. Also, the genetic difference between broods/species is notable, meaning they have been doing this for millions of years. Check out this link for some interesting thoughts and research on the subject. Insects that emerge every year can prime the pump of predators; i.e. a good year of prey will most likely lead to a good year of reproduction for predators, so that in the following year, there will be even more predators for the prey. Staggering reproductive years by such time spans is a way of completely out-foxing the fox. Prime number intervals, btw, like the components of today’s date 5/1/13, which works better Euro-style: 1/5/13 — although, of course, 1 isn’t a prime.

Happy May Day, citizens.

Cicada Preview

People are getting hopped-up about Brood II of the 17 year cicadas, emerging soon near you here on the East Coast. I can tell, because I’ve gotten a lot of search hits on the subject of cicadas. But most of my cicada posts are about the annual cicadas and their predators. I’ve never seen a periodical cicada.

But here’s a taste:cicadas98This is a photograph (check it out, kids: silver-coated paper; ask your parents about this technology invented by Cro-Magnon) from a friend who was living in Missouri in 1998, when the stars aligned both a 13-year AND a 17-year brood emergence in the region. (Said friend is still traumatized and asks that his name not be used.)

The shed exoskeletons of the 17-year old nymphs pile up around the tree; the black-bodied, red-eyed adult cicadas, which are smaller than our annual green cicadas, are on the tree.cicadas1998I gather your suburban types are going to be bitching about the mess made by the potentially massive emergence of Brood II — which probably makes great compost — but I can’t help that. The planet doesn’t belong to them, nor any of us.cicada1998I say, bring on the Seventeeners!

Brood II is Nigh

Alan ArkinThe cicadas are coming, the cicadas are coming!

Brood II of the 17-year genus Magicicada cicadas is due to emerge this spring. This is an East Coast brood. Depending on the temperature, this could happen anywhere from mid April to May, but with our warmer and warmer springs the breakout will probably begin on the earlier side. They will last into June. These cicadas have spent the last 17 years, yes, 17 long years, underground, feasting on the juices of tree roots. They are now ready to emerge, shuck their nymphal husks, unfurl their wings, and rock. And they should be doing it en masse, I mean, carpeting the ground, swarming on trees, piling up in the gutters, driving some hominids absolutely crazy with their numbers and their noise.

But I can’t wait.

Staten Island is the best place to see and hear and try not to crunch on this spectacle in the city. In anticipation, the Staten Island Museum has just opened a periodical cicada exhibit. The Museum is reputed to have the world’s largest collection of cicada specimens. Some broods, as the generational cohorts are called, have been arriving years earlier than expected; the reason seems to be milder and milder winters. But Brood II is on course.

You’ve seen a lot of cicadas (and their killers) on this blog, but they have all been the annual, dog-day species. Theses spend several years underground as well, but with generations each year, examples of them emerge each year in late summer. I have never seen the red-eyed, orange winged 17-year Magicicadas. Field trips will be in order.

Two excellent resources for more information are and, where cicadamaven Dan also includes some pointers for potential June brides.


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