We are all familiar with the late summer drone of annual cicadas, but around here we also have periodical cicadas. Cicadas that live underground for many years before surfacing for a few short weeks en masse, with such quantity and deafening noise as to make you think an invasion has occurred.
This year it is Brood V. They come out every 17 years. The last time they arrived my kids were little and completely fascinated with all the empty exoskeletons. We had quite a collection. Here is a little look at what has been going on in our yard this month.
This adult cicada will be flying off to find a mate as soon as he warms up. They fill the trees by the thousands and can be so loud that you have to yell to be heard above the buzz. (Want to hear some of their calls? Go here to Cicada Mania.)
Cicadas begin life as an egg laid in the soft wood of trees where they feed on tree fluids. Once they are about the size of a grain of rice they drop off the tree and burrow into the ground to spend years feeding on tree roots.
The first sign something was up. A yard full of mole and vole holes. All the emerging nymphs became a ‘all you can eat’ buffet.
Then as time went on and the soil warmed up, tons of these small finger width holes began showing up around the trees. Exit holes for all the emerging nymphs.
Exoskeletons of the nymphs began to pile up around the trees…
and stuck on blades of grass…
and lining the tree trunks.
So strong is the instinct to go up, that this cicada hopped right up off of the ground on to my shoe, thrilled to find something to climb. Climbing the trees is essential to survival. The tree provides some protection from ground predators and the soft ends of the branches supply fluids for the cicadas to drink. And, of course, that’s also where they will find mates to ensure their species future survival.
Here are some bits and bobs:
The nymph exoskeletons are rather detailed and interesting.
I wonder what the white strings are?
Not all cicadas manage to make it out of their exoskeletons before they dry and harden. This one hardened and died half way out.
This one made it out but its wings were damaged. It will probably wind up someone’s snack. Pretty much everything that breathes and eats protein chows on these insects.
The yard was littered with detached wings, showing that many critters were enjoying the surplus of food. We even had Blue birds in our yard for a couple of weeks!
While cicadas won’t bite you, they do, however, suck juices from the tips of the trees causing them to die off. This is called flagging. I have a young Amelanchier laevis in a pot and this what part of it looked like after the cicadas got done with it.
Not the kind of thing you want to see on a young tree. Notice the broken branch.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, a cicada laid eggs in that branch before it died and snapped off. And the weird part is that I never saw, or heard a thing where this tree was along my driveway. Sneaky.
I’ll have pictures of a freshly molted cicada for you in my next post. In the meantime if you want more in-depth information here are two sites I really like: Magicicada and Cicada Mania. Cicada Mania even has t-shirts and mugs for sale for the cicada enthusiast. 😀