Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Brood X1X Cicadas

On May 4, 2011, we had the fortune of encountering a natural phenomenon like nothing we'd seen in the West... periodical (Magicada) cicadas, and lots of them! 

I was walking the dog when I first saw them.  Actually, I saw a squirrel eating something and I couldn't figure out what.  I shooed him away, and he dropped his prize.  A half eaten bug?  When I looked around, I found DOZENS of half eaten bugs in a pile, and dozens and dozens and dozens more whole ones when I really started looking. Especially on sunny tree trunks and posts. 

That's all it took!  I grabbed my kids straight off the school bus to show them my discovery.  Being curious nature nuts at heart, we just couldn't get enough!  We spent the next month observing, playing with, rescuing, and rooting for brood X1X, our local periodical cicadas!   

So for our friends out west, here's what you might see if you come visit in 2024 (13 year cycle)...

The ground is pierced with hundreds of soda-straw width holes where the cicada nymphs emerge. 

They've spent the past 11 years under ground sucking on sap from tree roots, coming out just the last 4- 6 weeks to mate. The best time to see them emerge is at night. 

Watching for emerging nymphs is not an activity for the weak of heart though, as the nymphs will climb up anything or any one.

Once a secure place is found, they molt into adult form (white at first, then quickly darken as their exoskeletons harden, like first photo above).

Their baby skin, or sheds (nymph exoskeletons) are left behind on shrubs, posts, tree trunks, etc.

We decided we might as well have a little party.  Got the neighbor kids, a bucket, some flashlights and some treats.  Whoo-hoo, only once every 11 years!

 Let's make some memories!

Of course the real cicada party was high up in the trees. Check out the highway going up!

Down by us humans, the empty  "sheds" left behind by the nymphs piled up, history being formed right while we watched...  Totally amazing!

We thoroughly enjoyed hearing the adults call from their trees.  The boys "played" with them both before and after school, teaching everyone about their life cycle and how to tell males from females, having catching and flying contests, you name it. 

Eventually, we caught some of the adults in "the act."  But only for a moment.  We gave them back their space and wished them luck for the next 13 years!

Now their dead bodies are strewn among the leaf litter.  We see the next generation in the trees.  See the brown patches of leaves? that's called "flagging."  Most of the trees around us don't show that much flagging, the one in the photo was exceptional.  It sounds like Magicada can be a real nuisance in other parts of the country, however.

Females deposit their eggs in small diameter, peripheral branches, which eventually drop to the ground, allowing the newly hatched nymphs to escape into the ground.

Of course we now have the regular, annual cicadas around, but they just aren't the same. Being a part of the Magicada emergence was truly a magical phenomenon...

Links to Great cicada information for info on cicada broods and emergence
This one includes info, great photos (male vs. female) and RECIPES, University of Cincinatti -Clermont College cicada page
University of Michigan Museum of Zoology cicada page
Massachusetts Cicada page, with info on mapping Williamsburg's cicadas!
Cicada Mania has it all, info, video clips, and merchandize!

Links to Cicada Craft ideas:

Clever singing Cicada nature craft from a paper tube at 5 Orange Potatoes
Cicada origami printable from Lake County Forest Preserves, Illinois


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