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Seasons: Where are the Cicadas?

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Towards the second week of July 2004, the first cicadas of the season started to emerge on the north shore of Long Island and begin their summer serenade. This is a few days later than they usually emerge and there does not seem to be many of them thus far. The cooler wetter weather July 13th and 14th seems to have put a damper on the ones that did emerge. It is unlikely that this will last and we will eventually witness the usual explosion of noise on the warmest sunniest days (and evenings).

The few cicadas that have appeared so far are not part of the swarm of periodical cicadas that grabbed headlines down in the Mid-Atlantic States. That swarm, sometimes referred to as brood-X, is part of a regular population explosion of periodical cicadas (of the genus Magicicada) that occurs in 17 year cycles.Periodical cicadas, like the  Brood-X cicadas that last hatched in 2004 (note the red eyes and orange-red wing veins) - Courtesy of USDA "X" refers to 10, as in the Roman numeral X, because Brood X hatches during the 10th year of the 17 year cycle followed by entomologists. Most years there is a different brood that hatches in great numbers in one section of the eastern United States or another.

The typical life cycle of periodical cicadas consists of 17 years underground as nymphs feeding on tree roots followed by approximately three manic weeks of flying around seeking mates. The adults, which typically appear above ground in May or June, have red eyes, orange or red wing veins and reddish or black bodies. The loud sounds they make are the mating calls of the males. After mating, the females deposit their eggs in slits they make in small branches of trees and die soon afterwards. The nymphs that hatch fall to the ground and burrow down to the tree's roots to begin their 17 years underground. In years when there is a great abundance of cicadas, such as with this year's Brood-X, they produce more nymphs which in turn mature to yield another population explosion 17 years later. Brood XIV (14), which is due to mature and emerge from the ground in 2008, may have more impact on Long Island than this year's brood.

A Tibicen cicada, similar to the typical cicada found on Long Island - these are sometimes referred to as 'Dog Day Harvestflies' for the time of year when they emerge During the previous Brood-X emergence in 1987, there were one or two local hotspots on Long Island where a sizeable number did emerge, but for the most part they were not common then. Apparently, they either were unsuccessful in mating on Long Island that year or for other reasons have not survived their 17 years underground. Here on Long Island, the common cicadas that emerge every summer have a similar, but much shorter life cycle. They normally spend several years underground, but far fewer than 17. The cicadas observed on Long Island each summer probably belong to multiple different species, but mainly all belong to the genus Tibicen. This genus of cicada is sometimes referred to as the "Dog Day Harvestfly" since they appear mainly during the "dog days" of July and August. It is fairly easy to distinguish them from the periodical cicadas because the Tibicen usually have green eyes and green wing veins, and their black and green bodies are larger than the reddish periodical cicadas.


Brood XIV Periodical Cicada on a Pitch Pine in the Manorville Hills section of the Long Island pine barrens - June 21, 2008
Periodical Cicada in the Long Island Pine Barrens on June 21, 2008.  Photo by E. Moran