For me, the sound of summer — hot, humid, stinking summer, the doggiest of Dog Days — is the rising and falling whine of cicadas up in trees. I first became acquainted with cicadas in the Midwest, where hot and humid go together like deep fat frying batter and food on a stick at a state fair. I was delighted to find them here on the East Coast, too, where hot and humid are also suffocatingly entwined during the depths of summer.
In fact, you can find annual cicadas right here in Brooklyn, no thanks to all the acres of concrete and tar covering up the ground. Cicadas spend the majority of their life underground, sucking on tree roots (yum!), but they do need to come to the surface eventually, and nothing spoils a good emergence like a slab of concrete.
There are two basic types of cicadas: the periodical and the annual (a.k.a. dog day cicada or dog day harvestfly). The periodicals are the famous seventeen year cicadas, some species of which actually spend thirteen years underground, others the eponymous seventeen, with off-schedule emergences every once and a while within their regions. The periodical cicadas are recognized by their red eyes, and, should you find yourself amidst a brood, their tremendous numbers. The next local brood is expected in 2013 on Staten Island, our least paved borough.
The annual cicadas, as their name suggests, are with us every year. Because it takes from three to five years for these true bugs to reach maturity, what we witness each year are the emergence of different generations.
Once it digs its way out of the ground, the nymph cicada crawls up a tree. There it clasps hold of the bark and begins its transformation into an adult: it splits down the back, the winged adult struggles out. The second, third, and fourth pictures here (all pictures heche in Brooklyn) are of the empty exoskeletons, abandoned attached to trees and leaves. These are called exuviae by the specialists.
The newly emergent adult cicadas allow their wings to spread and dry, then continue climbing up the tree, or fly to a new tree, to begin the mating process. That buzzing sound? The males, trying to attract the females. Last summer was a particularly rich year for cicadas; there seem to be less this year, but if you haven’t heard one yet, you haven’t been listening.