As summer approaches New York residents are all gearing up for a nice few months of sunshine, outdoor cocktail hours, free concerts in central park, movies under the stars and cicadas. That’s right, I said cicadas. If you are fortunate enough not to know what a cicada is then it probably means you have spent most of your life on the west coast. It also means that you should count yourself very lucky this summer as we east coasters prepare for Cicadageddon! Although you may think I am being a bit over dramatic, think again, scientists are predicting swarms of billions if not trillions of the grasshopper like insect to descend upon us at any minute. ANY MINUTE I SAY !
Admittedly I am not a “bug person” and so of course the idea of the swarms of the large insects flooding the skies and trees in New York in biblical proportions gives me the willies to say the least. Luckily I live in Manhattan and with very little foliage scientists say the number of cicadas we will see in the city will be very low compared to other parts of the east coast. Just a hop-skip and a jump away in places like the Hudson River Valley and Staten Island, Cicadageddon will be in full force this summer.
Even despite of all my pre-swarm anxieties, I have developed an appreciation for the little buggers after learning what cicada’s are really all about, survival, safety in numbers and sexy times. That’s right, this type or brood of cicadas (this years cicadas are named Brood II) have spent the last 17 years living in the dark, underground, munching on roots, and thinking about sexy times. There are 170 known species of cicadas in North America and 2000 species worldwide. Some species of cicadas emerge every year and are known as Annual cicadas. The species that that emerge after long life-cycle, such as Brood II which last emerged 17 years ago, are knows as Periodical cicadas.
Now back to cicada sexy times. When they finally do emerge from their burrows underground, they emerge as nymphs resembling a termite and climb up the nearest tree where they shed their exoskeleton. After a short time their wings fill with fluid, their new bodies harden, and the now adult cicadas take to the trees to do what they have been dreaming about for 17 long years, sexy times. The cicadas will have sexy times for the next 4-6 weeks after emerging, mating as much as possible before dying just a few short weeks later. Besides their massive numbers, cicada’s are also known for the loud noise or song the male cicadas make to attract females for mating, in fact the loudest song known in the insect world. The male cicada’s make this song by contracting a ribbed membrane known as a tymbal that makes a snapping sound when the membrane buckles and then snaps back into place. With millions of cicadas emerging at the same time, it is common for trees to be filled with thousands of cicadas, singing at the same time, with their songs registering over 100 decibels.
Although it’s still a mystery why cicadas decide to spend almost their entire lives underground, some scientists speculate that’s its to give the insect a better chance of survival. You see cicadas, although scary looking with their red eyes and rather large abdomens and wings, are actually completely harmless. The don’t bite, they don’t sting, and they aren’t poisonous, so when they emerge from their sleepy homes when the soil reaches the magic temperature of 64 degrees, they will be preyed upon by everything and everyone from birds, fish, cats, squirrels to even humans. By spending most of their lives underground the cicadas make sure that they will not become a regular food source for any potential predators and by emerging form the ground and mating in the billions, they ensure that plenty cicadas will be able to mate and lay their eggs for future broods before dying or becoming a snack. For animals who feed on insects the next few months promise to be one of the greatest fuzzy feasts of their entire lives and for some chef’s in New York City and along the east coast, this summer will give them ample opportunity to add a little cicada surprise to their seasonal menus. Have a Great Weekend!!