The trip back home at the end of the semester may bring an unpleasant surprise of the entomological kind for Oswego State students who call the Hudson Valley home.
Large insects of the genus Magicicada, more commonly known as cicadas, are expected to be emerging all across the Eastern United States this summer in massive numbers. This year’s emergence of the 17-year cicada, part of Brood II, is expected to take place from North Carolina to as far north as New York.
While the emergence is not expected to strongly affect the Oswego area, closer to New York City they are expected to emerge in strength.
“Although the Brood II periodical cicadas emerging this summer along the East Coast from Western Massachusetts and Connecticut as far south as Northern North Carolina are causing a media stir, they will not affect Central N.Y.,” Cole Gilbert, a professor of Entomology at Cornell University, said. “In New York they will emerge in several counties down near New York City and in the lower Hudson Valley.”
Gilbert helped head a study of Brood VII in 2006, which is most common in Central N.Y. and last emerged in 2001. The study, entitled, “Decrease in Geographic Range of the Finger Lakes Brood (Brood VII) of the Periodical Cicada,” studied known emergences of this brood all the way back to 1797 and found that the brood is becoming extinct.
“Brood VII was historically present across the Finger Lakes. It is now reduced to areas in and around the Onondaga Nation Reservation south of Syracuse,” Gilbert said. “There were also a few individual cicadas reported from Livingston County. That county will likely not have cicadas when the brood emerges next in 2018, although the population around Syracuse and Nedrow is still strong.”
Cicadas are uniquely known for their odd emergence pattern in which they burrow out of the ground once every 17 years in order to mate and lay eggs. For the rest of their life cycle, they live underground, feeding on fluids from tree roots. Some species of cicadas emerge every 13 years as well. It is theorized that this pattern of emerging on prime number intervals may be a method of preventing predators from synchronizing their own generations to divisors of their life cycle, though there are other competing theories to explain their odd life cycle.
When cicadas emerge, they are perhaps most well known for their numbers and their noise. A cicada emergence can sometimes result in densities of more than 1.5 million per acre, or more than 30 per square foot, according to magicicada.org.
When cicadas do emerge, they are a favorite treat for many predators, which is part of the reason that they emerge en masse.
“These cicadas rely in ‘predator satiation’ or ‘safety in numbers’ strategies, so they are quite dense,” said John Cooley, a researcher at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut, and widely viewed as the world’s foremost expert on cicadas. Cooley is also the sole proprietor of Cicada Research, which runs the website magicicada.org.
In the “predator satiation” strategy, all members of the species emerge at the same time for a matter of a few weeks. The first cicadas to emerge are quickly eaten by the many predators that enjoy the rare feast. Animals of all kinds, including birds, spiders, snakes and even dogs will consume as many cicadas as possible. But the cicadas emerge in such massive numbers that soon the predators have eaten all they can, and the remaining cicadas (the vast majority of them) can breed and lay their eggs unimpeded.
“They are also quite patchy, especially as they near their range limits,” Cooley said. “So I would expect the emergences in New York to be characterized by some very dense patches, but patches nonetheless – not a continuous emergence of cicadas by any means.”
The noise made by male cicadas to attract mates can be deafening when nearby. The males form into “choruses” in trees where they all produce their “calling song” at once, hoping to attract females to come and mate.
“The emergence will mostly be confined to the Hudson Valley,” Cooley said. “Because this is so far north, the emergence will most likely really get going in June, after the emergence has really started to die down in the southern locations in North Carolina and Virginia.”
Cicadas can be somewhat of a nuisance, but Cooley advises most to simply bear it out.
“I mostly suggest that people sit back and enjoy them,” Cooley said. “Do not try to spray or kill them – they are a natural part of the ecosystem, so removing them might not be a good idea, and if you try to spray, you will have to use so much spray that you will kill everything in sight.”
For those that run orchards or tree nurseries, Cooley advises to wrap your trees with avian netting. He provides more information about the impending cicada emergence on his website magicicada.org.