WASHINGTON, May 28, 2013 - The last time they were here was 1996. Bill Clinton was president. Gas was $1.27 per gallon. The glove did not fit, and OJ was acquitted. For one month in early summer, the cicadas swarmed.
It is the Magicicada Brood II cicada and in the mid-Atlantic DC Region they are beginning to emerge from their 17 years underground. The cicadas are marked by prominent red eyes, spaced far apart and large transparent wings. They have sucking mouthparts, not for human biting, but for piercing and drinking sap from plants.
They live underground as “immature nymphs”, emerging every 13-17 years and only to breed. Once the are above ground, the nymphs break out of their exoskeletons, molt, and become fully formed adult cicadas.
Those molted shells, a tannish color, can be found attached to trees, rocks, the underside of banisters, for months after their season.
For those that can’t tolerate the whirring, humming, red-eyed buggers, they only hang out above ground for about a month, have sex, lay their eggs and die.
So you can just work from home. Call in with acute cicadophobia.
Our you can embrace our temporary residents, revealing in the cicada creepy coolness.
Part of the coolness is that when they first emerge, a total lack of melanin renders the cicada white. From being underground they are soft. More exciting than watching paint dry is watching a cicada harden. The shells darken in the sunlight and the transform from their ghostly self to something slightly alien looking. Unlike the larger cicada, characterized by a brown body and amber eyes, this year’s are smaller, black and have red eyes.
Cicada are cold-blooded meaning they need to have warm temperatures and direct sunlight to sing, attracting the opposite sex, and mate. Turning black helps them to absorb the heat that they need.
The cicadas visiting this summer have little or no skills. They have no natural defense. They are not poisonous or toxic, providing a culinary feast for birds and small animals, like raccoons, squirrels, snakes and some human epicureans.
They don’t fly so they won’t suddenly swarm. The survival plan seems to be based on numbers as they reproduce by the millions, betting that enough will survive to replicate 17 years hence.
They can’t really crawl up anything that does not have a rough surface. Their goal is to climb up trees in order to lay their larva in tree stems and twigs. The female cicada does this by cutting a slit into younger shoots and laying her eggs inside. As the young tree, branch or plant grows, the slit opens, the plant dies off and the larvae fall to the ground where they burrow underground for another 17 years.
And even though you may not like having the cicada in the trees overhead, they serve a purpose as Mother Nature’s pruning service, helping to open up the forest.
If the shrimp sized critters don’t bother you, their mating call might. At 7kHz, and their vast numbers, they create a whirring din that will either be soothing or drive you batty.
With the hot weather expected this week, soil temperatures will rise, as will the cicadas. Reports are that the cicadas will be more prevalent in Northern Virginia than DC.
Cicada Mania is a great place to find out where the cicadas are coming out of the ground, great photos, recipes, cicada gear (hats, t-shirts, cups), tips about how to deal with them and even a Cicada wedding planner.
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