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The Age of Cicadas

Once in a blue moon- wait, no, this is rarer.
Pharaoh Cicada, Magicicada septendecim, on iNaturalist; Taken on May 17, 2021 in Montgomery Maryland; cc-by Katja Schulz
Katja Schulz
Pharaoh Cicada, Magicicada septendecim, on iNaturalist; Taken on May 17, 2021 in Montgomery Maryland; cc-by Katja Schulz

As we approach summer, many of you will hear the deafening cries of cicadas as they emerge from their burrows. These cicadas are known as ‘periodical cicadas’, which means that they emerge every thirteen- or seventeen- years. That means that some of these cicadas are older than our freshmen!

This year, there is something special, however. The cicadas of both groups are emerging at the same time, meaning billions of cicadas will come out from the soil to soar on buzzing wings. This happens once every two-hundred and twenty-one years. For reference, that means that the last time this happened Ohio was just admitted into the union a few months earlier. The names of these broods are Brood XIX and Brood XIII. The places they cooccur in is thin, however. See here for more information.

In honor of this, I have several cicada facts to share with you all.

  • Periodical cicadas can count! When scientist put cicada nymphs into a controlled environment and altered the number of times the trees started growing leaves to start an artificial spring- say, twice in one year- the cicada nymphs would emerge after the correct amount of springs- artificial or natural. In other words, they count the number of growth cycles of the trees they feed on.
  • If they mistake the number of years, it’s usually by either one or four years, and is thought to be due to the cicada nymphs growing at different rates or seasonal weather.
  • A few weeks after the first emergence, a second one will occur where the babies of the first emerence will emerge from slits in trees and jump down to the ground. They are much quieter, however.
  • They have no way to defend themselves other than the sheer number of periodical cicadas emerging at the same time. They have no bite or sting, and they are poor fliers. So their main defensive adaptation is being so many in number that there are more cicadas than what the predators could possibly eat. Annual cicadas, on the other hand, are better with camouflage and flight.
  • Cicada emergences have many effects on the ecosystem, such as increasing the populations of bird species. Also, because the birds are so distracted with the cicadas, other insects have a population boom- especially caterpillars. In turn, there is a spike in damage to leaves. Ants that target cicadas will neglect other food sources, such as seeds. Some seeds have growths called elaiosomes that are rich in nutrients and look like insects, so ants bring them to the nest, remove the growths, and discard the seems outside where they grow. Because of the cicadas emergence, the wildflowers are growing closer together increasing conflict.
  • Massopora cicadina, a fungus, parasitizes periodical cicadas. The spores are dormant underground until the emergence, when they infect the abdomens, causing them to burst out with a fruiting body, destroying the sexual organs. It also causes the cicada to attract both male and female cicadas, leading to it spreading.
  • Different species have different songs.

Sources: Scientific American, Vox

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About the Contributor
Alix Bennett
Alix Bennett, Author
Hi! My name's Alix Bennett, and I like frogs (hence the frog hat🐸). I am currently a high school student here at Palestine High School as well as a dual credit student at LTC, and a summer volunteer at George Rogers Clark National Historic Park. I want to be an ecologist, as well as a writer and artist on the side. My favorite artist is Pidgin Dolls, and my favorite musicians are Penelope Scott, cavetown, and Skydxddy. I'm a Neopagan, which means my religion is based on natural cycles and the spirits thereof. My pronouns are She/Her. I'm a huge Pokemon and DnD fan, and I love learning about all kinds of things, such as frogs, insects, mushrooms, frogs, plants, geology, frogs, space, history, frogs, and other subjects. And also frogs. I like frogs. I want to be needlessly kind. If people can needlessly hate strangers, I can needlessly love strangers.

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