17-Year Cicadas Are Buzzing In! What to Expect

LiveScience.com
Billions of Cicadas to Emerge Along East Coast
.

View photo

Periodical cicadas, like these, remain underground for years before emerging into the sunlight, where …

The U.S. Northeast is about to be snowed under by cicadas. Don't worry, though, it's normal. The pesky invasion is just so unusual that people tend to forget about it.

After 17 years underground, the so-called "Brood II" cicadas are about to have their time in the sun. Millions of these root-sucking insects will come out into the open and spend four to six weeks calling for mates, mating and then laying eggs for the next generation.

This brief overpopulation of cicadas in April and May is supposed to overwhelm what predators are able to eat, explained Jim Fredericks, the National Pest Management Association's director of technical services. [Ewwww! 6 Crazy Facts About Cicadas]

"Bird species, raccoons, possums, foxes and whatever can get their mouths on these things, can eat their fill and have no impact on the population," Fredericks said.

These insects cause no harm to humans or to property, although occasionally a car parked under a cicada-infested tree could get covered in small droppings.

"They are literally everywhere, crawling over every tree, every building, everywhere. It's an amazing number of individual animals," said Chris Hartley, an entomologist at the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Hormones drive the cycle

Cicadas (erroneously called locusts) are large, dark-backed insects related to aphids and leafhoppers. They typically grow to about 2 inches (5 centimeters) in size, and they are loud: their calls can reach to 100 decibels, about the same noise intensity as a nearby motorcycle.

The United States hosts several cicada species. Many of them emerge every year, but there are also distinct populations that only mature every 13 or 17 years. (Brood II is only one of several 17-year broods, but its location in the heavily populated northeastern United States, east of the Great Plains, means it is getting a lot of media attention.)

The prime number makes it hard for predators to predict when the cicadas will emerge, biologists believe.

After cicadas emerge from the ground and mate, the females lay eggs at the edges of tree branches, which can damage the branches on a small tree. A single female can produce hundreds of eggs across several batches.

When the larvae hatch, they crawl down the trunk and burrow into the soil to feed on plant and tree roots. The larvae have mouths that behave "like a hypodermic needle," Fredericks said, which sticks into tree tissue and takes the juices out.

The larvae go through several stages of youth. In annual cicadas, these stages pass quickly, while 13- or 17-year cicadas see a much more prolonged childhood.

"In the case of these cicadas, they are triggered to not produce the hormones essential for becoming an adult until those numbers of years have passed," Hartley said.

"It's all in their genes and their development, and that is the adaptation that they have acquired to achieve these mass emergences."

Few underground life studies

It's difficult to study the cicada cycle as much of it takes place underground. Scientists think intense competition goes on when the cicadas are still nymphs.

"Most mortality takes place in the first or second [nymph stage]," said Chris Simon, a cicada researcher at the University of Connecticut. "There's competition for feeding space underground."

The cicadas may die in battle, fighting with each other for food, but nobody knows that for sure yet.

"They have digging claws that can dig through hard dirt, so they might be able to actually kill each other," Simon said. "We don't know because it's hard to watch them underground."

The 13- and 17-year cicadas are the only ones that spend such a long period as juveniles, except for insects that "diapause," or wait for conditions to be ideal before emerging from hibernation.

Some beetles, for example, have been recorded emerging from furniture imported from Asia decades before, she said.

Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
View Comments (23)

Recommended for You

  • Republicans warn world that Obama U.N. plan could be undone

    By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration's plan for U.N. climate change talks encountered swift opposition after its release Tuesday, with Republican leaders warning other countries to "proceed with caution" in negotiations with Washington because any deal could be…

    Reuters
  • California getting 'second-hand smog' from Asia, researchers say

    By Sharon Bernstein SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California is suffering from "second-hand smog" drifting in from Asia and other places, researchers said on Tuesday, even as the state's prolonged drought has made air quality worse. About 10 percent of ozone pollution, the main ingredient in…

    Reuters
  • Hurricane-strength winds pummel Europe, four killed

    By Michael Hogan HAMBURG (Reuters) - At least four people were killed on Tuesday when hurricane-force winds lashed northern Europe in one of the most severe storms in years, forcing flights to be canceled and disrupting road, train and marine traffic. The Dutch meteorological office issued a red…

    Reuters
  • United States sets official strategy for Paris climate talks

    By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Tuesday published plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, part of a strategy to generate momentum for a global agreement later this year on combating climate change. The formal…

    Reuters
  • Air and sea traffic disrupted as 120 km winds batter Netherlands

    Spring storms battered the Netherlands with gusts of up to 120 kilometers an hour on Tuesday, causing Amsterdam's Schiphol airport to cancel flights and the closure of two container terminals at the port of Rotterdam. Gale force winds sweeping in from the North Sea disrupted land and marine…

    Reuters
  • Heavy rains trigger flood fears in Kashmir; 17 dead

    By Fayaz Bukhari SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Heavy rains and a landslide in the Himalayan region of Kashmir killed 17 people, police said on Tuesday, as Indian authorities continued working to rescue stranded villagers, with unseasonal rains raising fears of flash floods in the mountainous north. …

    Reuters
  • Ocean warming suggests 50 percent chance of El Nino-Australia

    By Colin Packham SYDNEY (Reuters) - Recent warming of the Pacific Ocean may signal an El Nino weather event is forming, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on Tuesday. Climate models indicate the central tropical Pacific Ocean is likely to continue to warm, with El Nino thresholds to be…

    Reuters
  • Vanuatu risks long-term food insecurity after monster cyclone: U.N.

    By Alisa Tang BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The monster cyclone that hit Vanuatu earlier this month wiped out more than 90 percent of the archipelago's crops, putting its people at risk of a secondary emergency and long-term food insecurity, the United Nations warned on Monday. Tropical…

    Reuters
  • Heavy rains trigger flood fears in Kashmir; six dead

    By Fayaz Bukhari SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - A landslide in the Himalayan region of Kashmir killed six people and left 10 missing, police said on Monday, as unseasonal rains swept India, damaging crops and raising fears of flash floods in the mountainous north. Hundreds of people fled their homes…

    Reuters
  • Harsh weather cripples fishing and tourism on Cameroon's coast

    By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame KRIBI, Cameroon (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - For over 15 years, Raoul Meno has been fishing the waters off the coastal town of Kribi in southern Cameroon. A bout of persistent heavy rains and surging tides this year has made fishing in Kribi increasingly difficult and…

    Reuters
  • Air Canada plane landed short, hit antennas in Halifax accident

    By Mark Blinch HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters) - An Air Canada plane that suffered heavy damage in an accident in the east coast city of Halifax on Sunday landed short of the runway and hit an antenna array, losing its landing gear, safety officials said. "They touched down 1,100 feet (335 meters)…

    Reuters
  • U.S. to submit plans to fight global warming; most others delay

    By Alister Doyle and Valerie Volcovici OSLO/WASHINGTON - The United States will submit plans for slowing global warming to the United Nations early this week but most governments will miss an informal March 31 deadline, complicating work on a global climate deal due in December. The U.S.…

    Reuters
  • Modi's popularity in rural India punctured by discontent, suicides

    By Mayank Bhardwaj VAIDI, India (Reuters) - Over a dozen debt-laden farmers have committed suicide in recent weeks in India, and discontent in many rural areas against government policies is turning into anger against Prime Minister Narendra Modi less than a year after he swept into office. …

    Reuters
  • Chile desert rains sign of climate change: chief weather scientist

    By Rosalba O'Brien SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The heavy rainfall that battered Chile's usually arid north this week happened because of climate change, a senior meteorologist said, as the region gradually returns to normal after rivers broke banks and villages were cut off. "For Chile, this particular…

    Reuters
  • Mexico unveils national strategy for Paris climate talks

    By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mexico on Friday said it will cap its greenhouse gas emissions by 2026, becoming one of the first countries to formally submit its national climate plan to the United Nations ahead of a climate summit in Paris in December. Mexico's Foreign and…

    Reuters
  • Fed must take account of global economy in U.S. outlook: Yellen

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve must take the global economy into account when judging the U.S. domestic outlook, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday, noting that a stronger dollar buoyed by weakness abroad may restrain U.S. exports Still, she added, U.S. consumer…

    Reuters
  • In reversal, crash-hit Lufthansa agrees to two-crew in cockpit rule

    Lufthansa said on Friday it would introduce new rules requiring two crew members in cockpits at all times, a swift reversal after its CEO said such a change was not needed despite the crash at its Germanwings subsidiary. The European Union said it would now advise all EU airlines to require two…

    Reuters
  • Sierra Leone capital 'eerily quiet' amid Ebola lockdown

    By Umaru Fofana FREETOWN (Reuters) - The capital of Sierra Leone was "eerily quiet" on Friday at the start of a three-day national lockdown aimed at accelerating the end of an Ebola epidemic in the worst affected country. Liberia has just one known case left and the three countries have set a…

    Reuters
  • Lufthansa to toughen up cockpit rules

    Lufthansa said it will introduce new rules requiring two crew members to be in the cockpit at all times after one of the pilots at its Germanwings unit crashed a plane in the French Alps. Prosecutors believe Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked himself alone in the cockpit of the Airbus A320 on Tuesday and…

    Reuters
  • Poland to charge two Russian officials over Kaczynski plane crash

    Poland said on Friday it would bring charges against two Russian air traffic controllers over a 2010 plane crash which killed then Polish president Lech Kaczynski, a move likely to damage bilateral relations already strained by the Ukraine crisis. Prosecutor Ireneusz Szelag from the District…

    Reuters