Be a Cicada Tracker and Stalk the East Coast Brood II

Cicada graphic courtesy cicadamania.com

Cicada graphic courtesy cicadamania.com

Sounds like a horror movie, doesn’t it? Cicada Wars: Stalking the East Coast Brood II. Harmless as they may be, a million of any winged insect swarming in your yard is, well, both cool and creepy. Cicadas are often mistaken for locusts (which are a kind of grasshopper) because some species swarm in huge numbers. This year, parts of the Eastern U. S. are due for their modern-day drama (it’s not a plague because, unlike grasshoppers, cicadas don’t destroy crops). The magicicada – or 17-year cicada – is slated to hatch this spring in Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Here’s the project part: New York City Radio station WNYC has hatched a tracking project to document the emerging East Coast Brood II. Cicada emergence is triggered not just by time but also by temperature, which means in each state they will emerge when the soil 8 inches beneath the surface reaches about 64 degrees Fahrenheit. WNYC outlines detailed instructions for building your own sensor, which is an excellent engineering project. While there’s no substitute for hands-on learning, we should note that buying all of the stuff you’ll need to make your own will cost significantly more (about $80) than just  buying a soil sensor (about $8).

Photo credit Bruce Marlin

Photo credit: Bruce Marlin

Once in the open, the cicadas cover the ground and tree trunks while they wait for their moist exoskeletons to harden. Magicicada can be numerous (anywhere from a few hundred to 1.5 million per acre) but they do not bite or harm people in any way. There is no reason to use pesticides on cicadas. Once their wings have dried, they break into their mating song, a buzz is so loud  and distinct, they have been known to be drawn to bagpipers when they are playing, which gives you an idea of what they might sound like (you might want to delay your outdoor bagpipe playing until summer if you live in a Brood II state).  Magicicadas feed on fluid from trees but will not seriously harm mature trees, even though a few of the most external branches on which they feed may wither. Very young trees with trunks that are smaller than 1 1/2 inches in diameter may be damaged by females laying eggs and so might be worth protecting with netting. After the mating and egg laying, the adults die and the larvae scoot underground to nestle in the roots of trees, where they will wait another 17 years before it all begins again.

Want to know more? Find interactive maps at magicicada.org and cicada FAQs at cicadamania.com.

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