There will be a new cycle of cicadas emerging this year, but despite some alarmist rumors of a large-scale infestation and devastation, there’s really nothing to worry about, according to one local expert.
The non annual cicadas, also known as the periodicals, belong to the species magicicada, the 17-year cicada. These are the ones that will be coming out this year in the East. These cicadas are the type with specifically separated broods of 13 or 17 years.
Entomologist Ray Simpson, with the Yale-Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, says there won’t be a grand-scale emergence of these arthropods appearing in area towns. Even in areas where cicadas are expected in large numbers, the dramatic headlines are simply overkill, he said.
“People in Connecticut will be aware of the Dog Day cicadas, the ones you hear during the heat of the summer. They make the really high-pitched trilling, buzzing that you hear during the day,” Simpson said. These annual cicadas are, 99% of the time, the kind of cicadas Connecticut residents see or hear.
In the order Hemiptera, periodical cicadas (magicicada), there are three species of the 17-year cicada (decim, cassini and decula). The three are synchronized in their emergence. They come out in the millions, flying, and singing.
“The cicadas come out in such huge numbers that predators are overwhelmed. The army of predators out there are taken by surprise,” said Simpson. “They (predators) can’t eat them all.”
The staggered emergence of the 13 and 17- year-cycles is a natural strategy to avoid competition within the various species.
That abundance of cicadas is a bonanza for the ecosystem.
“It’s an unlimited food source and a quick source of protein,” Simpson said. The main predators are birds, but bats, mammals and even fish will eat cicadas, as well.
Brood X, or Brood 10, is basically the only one that’s coming out this year, Simpson said, and that will be outside of New England. When you hear the term “brood” it means the emergence of one of these three species.
“The only brood recorded in Connecticut is Brood 2,” said Simpson. The last emergence was around 2013. The next time we see them will be in 2030, so we are pretty much guaranteed not to see a periodical this year, he said, adding that if you do see one, it should be reported.
“That would be very significant,” he said.
The broods are region specific. Brood 10 is fairly widespread, although distribution tends to be patchy with some hotspots within a region, said Simpson.
“We see them (Brood 10) in the mid-Atlantic and from Long Island and New York, west to Illinois and down through the Appalachians to Georgia,” he said.
There is concern about the Long Island broods going extinct, said Simpson. The theory is that if a brood gets too small, it can go extinct. For example, Simpson recalls a Brood 11 that did live in Connecticut. A few people went out to look for it in 1954 and found just a few individual insects and determined that small hatch was the last of the brood. Seventeen years later, the brood could not be found and was determined to be extinct, Simpson said.
Extinction generally comes as a result of habitat fragmentation and human development. Most of their life cycle is spent underground.
“You don’t even know they are there,” Simpson said. So, when you dig and develop for a new store, or mall or housing development, it’s possible that activity is destroying a specific cicada population.
Cicadas can’t bite humans as they don’t have mouthparts. There are approximately 3,000 cicada species in the world, with the real focus of cicada diversity in the temperate tropical areas of the world, said Simpson. That includes New Zealand, where there are species of cicada unique to that country.
There are, overall, fewer cicadas in the U.S. These insects stay underground so long due to an extremely long time in the larval development stage. They don’t have wings and don’t even look like cicadas during that stage. They have five instars, five times they collapse, grow and shed. Seventeen years is a long process to develop, feeding off the juices of tree roots, before they get to emerge.
Once they come out, a short period from April to May, they shed into their adult form. Their only purpose is to reproduce.
Two weeks is about the lifespan. The female oviposits (lays an egg) into the bark of a tree. They do not lay eggs on anything else. As a precaution, it may be best to wait to plant a new, young tree until fall. Otherwise, the cicada does no harm.