Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Life of the Cicadae

The cicadae (the singular is cicada) are coming very soon to some of the warmer parts of the nation; and I guess it’s quite an event. I’m told we’ll miss it here in the Minneapolis area, but some parts of southern Minnesota will get in on the fun. So will Chicago.
by Charlie Leck

We’re talking here about a “large homopterous insect of the family Cicadidae, the male of which produces a shrill sound by means of vibrating membranes on the underside of the abdomen.” [] These dudes have “membranous” wings. The guys of the species are able to create an incredible, very high pitched racket, often called a drone, by vibrating a couple of their abdominal organs. And all of it is in search of one thing common to dudes everywhere – sex!

Jimminy Crickets, I mean it! Can you imagine? And you’ve got to understand that this coming phenomenon arrives in cycles of only every 17 years. So, when you hear these guys making their constant noise, have some mercy; and realize that it’s no different with the cicadae down there in Chicago than it is over in the bars and bistros on State and Rush Streets, where guys are cruising and looking for chicks. The noise of all those clinking glasses and phony laughs could drive one just crazy.

There are plenty of folks excited about the coming of the cicadae – and I don’t mean female chicks (I’m not that sexist). No, the cicadae have a regular following of curious human beings. And this, after a 17 year wait, is pretty exciting for them.

These experts say that the arrival of the cicadae in Chicago will begin on or about May 22, depending on just how quickly the soils just beneath the surface warm up. Mark your calendar down there.

Here’s why you have to cut these noisy cicadas some slack. The poor guys and girls will only cause their noise disturbance and live long enough to mate and place their eggs along tree branches. Then they’ll die off, leaving dead cicadae scattered everywhere. The wee baby cicadae drop down to the ground and, in order to survive, begin burrowing and sucking on the juices provided by the roots of the nearby trees and shrubbery. As soon as they are strong enough, they’ll come on up out of the ground, molt, and fly off.

Now, this grand coming of cicadae to a place like Chicago can really be something! “Something” here meaning “just wildly incredible.” This every 17 year invasion can produce numbers like 1.5 million of them in a one acre area.

They all come up out of the ground just as soon as the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees. Wherever there are lots of trees, you’ll get lots of cicadas. If you live very near a forest preserve, you’re probably not going to get very much sleep. It’ll be that noisy.

Mind you, they might seem like pests and disturbances, but they are perfectly harmless – no jaws, so they can’t eat your plants and shrubs and they certainly can’t bite you. Your dog may try to eat a few, but they aren’t poisonous.

The Chicago Tribune ran a piece called Cicada Central. Any of you awaiting the coming of the cicadae might want to take a look at it.

Now, here’s further reading for you scientific/mathematic types….

The National Geographic Magazine article on the cicadae phenomena is probably the best you can read [find it here]

Why every 17 years?
If you think I understand what I am about to write here. you are grossly mistaken, but here’s the scoop (or straight poop)…. Scientists speculate that cicadae appear in 13 or 17 year cycles because those are prime numbers and relatively large ones at that… and this makes it nearly impossible for their predators to synchronize with them. Unlike these cicadae, the annual species have predators, like wasps, that lurk in wait for them. [I gleaned this information from the National Geographic article cited above.]

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