Posts Tagged 'cicadas'

Here Come the Magic Cicadas Again

MagicicadaThrough the magic of the social networks (thanks, Xris and Erin), I’ve learned that there will be a nearby emergence of 17-year cicadas this year. Brood V of Magicicada genus cicadas will be emerging on Long Island, as well as into Ohio and Virginia, this spring. Brooklyn may be on the western end of Long Island, but we don’t get these periodic, as opposed to annual, cicadas in our massively disturbed terrain. The Cicadamania link above recommends a park near Riverhead, NY, as a good location to enjoy the critters.

Pictured here are an adult Magicicada on the left and the husk of the underground larval stage on the right. 17 years of underground living!

I wrote about the 2013 emergence of Brood II in Staten Island and points north in all its glorious crunchy cacophony numerous times because it was so much fun:

June was the peak month in ’13. Sounds like road trip this June will be necessary…


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

Magicicada Now

c1Saturday, in Doodletown, we found a few Magicicadas.cic1c2And heard, in the distance, always the distance, the science-fiction-like thrum of them in the trees.c3On Sunday, we returned to Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island.c4Up on the hill and along Royal Oak Road, we found thousands and thousands and thousands of the husks.c5This is the bus shelter at Little Clove Rd and Victory Blvd, and yes, those are cicadas.c6Again the thum was in the distance, but we could never get underneath it.c7At the base of this tree, which itself was studded with the husks, the caramel colored husks are piled, along with abortive adults, and pieces of the adults.c8 The sights were awe-inspiring, humbling, and just a wee bit creepy. The latter, especially, when they fell on you.c9c10Looks like many of the adults failed to successfully emerge from their nymphal armor.c11Alive and kicking; you can see the tube-like mouth part here, which it uses like a straw to feed.

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.


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