Cicada Mania: Coming Soon
It sounds like something out of a horror story or biblical plague: Swarms of giant black bugs with beady red eyes will soon rise up out of the earth and take over the New Jersey skies. It's really happening: The emergence of Magicicada Brood II — an event that occurs once every 17 years and spans the eastern seaboard from North Carolina to Maryland — has begun. Local sightings have been reported in Wyckoff, Oakland, Ridgewood and Wayne. (Click here to watch a video from northjersey.com.)
The black 17-year cicada, not to be confused with the annual green dog-day cicada, spends the majority of its life cycle living underground, feeding off tree roots. Once the ground temperature reaches a steady 64 degrees, the nymphs begin to burrow escape tunnels, which appear either as 1/2 inch wide holes or chimney-like turrets.
When ready, the cicada crawls out of the ground under the cover of night, perches on a tree or plant and molts into a winged adult, leaving the shell of its former skin behind. At first, the cicada is white or tan, but over the next three to four days, its exoskeleton hardens and it turns black.
Once its transformation into adulthood is complete, it is ready for mating. Now the chorus begins. Male cicadas sing mating songs, which attract females, who lay eggs in trees — up to 600 each. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae fall to the ground and burrow down into the soil, where it will slowly mature until the next emergence in 2030.
The entire emergence — from the first molting nymph in North Caroline to the last cicada chorus to sing in Upstate New York — takes about eight weeks. In individual communities, the cicadas typically last four to six weeks.
Cicadas are non-poisonous and do not bite or sting. However, if a cicada lands on you, it may pinch or scratch if it confuses you with a tree branch. Cicadas feed off fluid in trees (called xylem) and also lay their eggs in trees. As a result, cicadas may damage trees and shrubs, especially young, delicate or ornamental plants. To prevent damage, try the following strategies:
- wrap netting, cheese cloth or insect exclusion screens around small trees or individual tree limbs,
- spray the bugs off of plants using a hose,
- manually pick them off with your hand.
Cicadas are attracted to the sound of lawnmowers, weed whackers, hedge trimmers, etc. Female cicadas think the noise is males singing, while male cicadas show up to join the other males in a chorus.
An old wives tale states the letters W or P on a cicada's wings portends a period of either WAR or PEACE.
There are seven different broods of periodic cicadas who emerge on either 13- or 17-year cycles and annual cicadas. The periodic cicadas are staggered in different years, likely as a predator avoidance strategy or to prevent crossbreeding between broods.
Despite popular belief, there are no seven-year cicadas. They are either annual cicadas or a confusion over 13 or 17 year broods.
Some older people call the emergence the 17-year locusts, but cicadas are not locusts. They are also not katydids. Locusts are a type of grasshopper, while katydids are a cricket cousin. Locusts and cicadas both emerge in periodic swarms, while katydids and cicadas form similar choruses. Unlike cicadas, locust swarms are destructive to plants and crops.
For more interesting facts about cicadas, visit Cicada Mania.
Have you seen any cicadas yet? Tell Us in the comments!