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I know why the hordes of caged cicadas sing

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:45 PM

On our way back from our "anniversary breakfast" at Cracker Barrel last week, my husband and I heard some disturbing news on the radio. Apparently, various areas of the nation are going to be invaded by hoards and hoards of ferocious flying creatures. These gigantic bugs emerge from beneath the ground, where they have been lurking for years, then devour everything in sight including pets and small children all while emitting a terrible and deafening sound as part of a bizarre mating ritual that science has proven drives human beings insane. Film at 11.

That's what the guy on NPR said. Well, not exactly. His version was a little less fantastic. Actually, he was talking about the periodical cicadas, not to be confused with locusts. Locusts are the migratory grasshoppers that like to travel in swarms of Biblical proportions and devastate acres and acres of crops and maybe a little shrubbery for dessert. Anyway, when I got home I decided to get to the bottom of this pestilence so I fired up my computer and Googled "cicada."

I discovered that there are two different types of cicadas. Most species have life cycles that last two to eight years and they don't all emerge at the same time. So these are the guys responsible for the empty bug shells we find clinging to the bark of trees every year and who serenade us with their incessant buzzing. This group is referred to as annual cicadas because some of they appear every year and they don't emerge in a synchronized manner.

The second type is called the periodical cicada because they appear en masse, periodically every 13 or 17 years, depending on the specie. They are only found in the United States, east of the Great Plains. The 13-year type stays primarily in the southern United States and the 17-year prefers the north.

To complicate matters even more, there are three broods of 13-year cicadas and 12 broods of the 17-year cicada and each one has its own schedule. I found a chart on the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Web page that shows when there will be an emergence of the 17-year cicada brood by brood and state by state. Mark your calendar, because we will be hosting Brood V in 2016. (Extreme southern Ohio will see Brood XIV in 2008.) This year, the 17-year cicada will be appearing in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan, hence the dramatic story on National Public Radio.

Here are some interesting Cicada facts: They do not devour pets and children, but they will feed on trees and shrubs, which can cause some damage. The female lays up to 600 eggs in small, tender branches by making a slit in the bark and depositing eggs 20 at a time. Eggs hatch and the nymphs drop to the ground, burrow and live off the tender roots of the tree for 17 years. Periodical cicadas have been estimated to achieve densities of 1.5 million per acre, but numbers in the tens or hundreds of thousands are more common.

Only males "sing" and they do it to attract females. Each species has its own song. One sounds like the word "pharaoh" repeated over and over again, the next sounds like a sizzling skillet and the third is said to sound like a rotary lawn sprinkler. Each species song occurs at a different time of day and it does drive humans crazy. The female responds with a simple flick of her wing to let the male know where she is. In China, many people like to keep a male cicada in a tiny cage to enjoy its song. Order your cage today!

There are various recipes for dishing up cicadas if you are so inclined: cicada Creole, There's cicada-kabobs, cicada gumbo, pineapple cicada, lemon cicada, coconut cicada, deep fried cicada, cicada burger, cicada sandwich... that, that's about it.

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