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Queens Chronicle

Cicadas all the buzz this summer

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Posted: Thursday, May 30, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:36 am, Thu Jun 6, 2013.

Cicadas will be buzzing in full force over the next few weeks, as the now-mature 17-year-old Magicicada species are ready for some summer loving. From June to September, the males will be buzzing all night long to attract mates. There are three different species and each one makes a distinct sound, but the females know what frequency to listen for, according to Bonnie McGuire, the deputy director for the city’s Park Rangers.

Now, the immature nymphs are waiting 8 inches below the soil for the temperature to reach 64 degrees, according to Lou Sorkin, an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History. Then they will crawl up out of the ground and undergo metamorphosis. The immature cicadas’ backs split open and the mature adults emerge, ready to mate.

While the cicadas are already blanketing trees and yards in Staten Island, Queens is still cicada-free, according to magicicada.org’s database. Brood II will span the northeast corridor in forested areas with older trees and undisturbed soil, McGuire said. In Queens, residents near Alley Pond, Cunningham, and Forest parks especially may experience louder nights.

Sorkin said Hurricane Sandy may have harmed some cicada nymphs because the whole landscape changed, but the insects are resilient and no one mentioned seeing cicadas on the roots of trees that were removed after the hurricane.

The lean black insects are 1 to 1.5 inches long, with bulging red eyes, but cicadas attract each other through sounds, which come from organs on their abdomens, which operate like timpani drums.

“They can be a little scary if you don’t know what they are,” McGuire said. “They’re big and globulous.”

When a male sees a female, it changes its song a little, Sorkin said. The female responds by flapping her wings, which span about 2 inches. Once a pair find each other, they hook up and copulate.

They’re harmless to humans, as they don’t sting or bite, McGuire said.

“Some people worried about invasion,” Sorkin said. “They’re not out to get you, they’re not dangerous or venomous. Cicadas are interesting to watch. People should not be afraid, they should try to observe them and see what they do.”

The three species in Brood II have a 17-year life cycle, so the insects maturing this summer were made in 1996. Their offspring won’t mature until 2030. There are also four species of 13-year cicadas, but they mainly live in the Southeast and Midwest.

According to Sorkin, there are evolutionary advantages to their prime-numbered lifespan. Going back to the Ice Age, having a long underground stage meant increasing the chances of hitting a warmer springtime, with favorable conditions. Also, emerging by the millions in a single year increases the odds that more members of the species will find mates and survive predators.

Cicadas are food for birds, raccoons, possums, rats, mice, dogs, cats, turtles, frogs, spiders, wasps, and even ants, which scavenge the carcasses and bring them back to their nests.

“They have a great effect on the local environment,” McGuire said. “They’re a great start of a food chain.”

According to Sorkin, cicadas are also edible by humans, and the light-colored soft adults that have just emerged are the best to eat.

“Some people say they taste like asparagus,” Sorkin said. “I’d say they taste more like corn.”

As for the cicadas’ palate, the insects suck sap from trees, but cause minimal damage doing so. While the nymphs are in the ground, they drink from the roots. When the females lay eggs, they make small holes in the trees but not enough to hurt or kill the trees, McGuire said.

According to Sorkin, sometimes the tips of branches of older trees break because of cicada eggs, but this is merely a natural pruning process. As for smaller trees, gardeners may opt to wrap them in netting to prevent damage or wait until next year to plant new saplings.

McGuire said the cicadas will only be around for a couple of months. “They come out, make noise, mate, lay eggs, and that’s it,” she said. Mature cicadas do not live through the winter.

“If you get a chance, take a look because it won’t happen again for 17 years,” McGuire said.

At the end of the season, the dead bodies littering the ground will make an excellent fertilizer, Sorkin said.

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