Thursday, July 26, 2007


If you lived here, you'd know exactly what sound that is. For nearly a month now, we've been hearing it during the day and in the early evening. Once the sun goes down, the sound disappears into the night, about the time the frogs and crickets are tuning up for their orchestral song. But those of you who aren't fortunate enough to be blessed with these lumbering, flying, buzzing, singing insects, meet the cicada:

Cicadas became well-known most recently in 2004, when Brood X emerged in great numbers. This brood was a 17-year periodical cicada, which differs from the cicadas we have around here. Oh, some areas very close to us were invaded by them, but we live one county north of their
range, and were spared.

I do remember the invasion, though. I flew by plane to Arkansas during that time, with a layover in Cincinnati. That leg of the flight was in a small plane and we disembarked on the tarmac. Walking up to the terminal entrance, it was quite apparent that cicadas had crawled out of the ground here in great numbers. You actually could have scooped them up with a shovel.

There are 13-year periodical cicadas, and the next emergence of these buggers will be in 2008, but we'll miss those, too. Cincinnati is very close to their range, so they may get blessed again. I would imagine there will be a year when both the 13- and 17-year broods emerge simultaneously. Heaven help Cincy.

The cicadas we get here are annual or 'dog-day' cicadas and they differ a bit in coloring and they're larger, at about two inches long. There are two- and five-year broods, but they're staggered, so some emerge every year and they never usually cause a problem.

They emerge from the ground during July and August and live for two to four weeks. Sometimes, if the weather has been wet around their emergence time (certainly not
this year), they will build mud tubes that rise out of the ground about three to four inches to escape the saturated soil. These are sometimes mistaken for crayfish holes.

When they crawl out of the ground, they attach themselves to a vertical surface, usually a tree trunk and they crawl out of their skin, leaving it behind. The molt can be somewhat disconcerting if you come across it. Ghostly, sort of.

When I was a kid, we called these things locusts, but that's not what they are. Locusts are large brown grasshoppers, and we have those, too.

Folklore says that six weeks after you hear the first cicada will come the first frost. That may be true in some areas, but for us, sixty days seems to be the accepted time period associated with this. I heard the first cicada on July 3rd, which would put first frost at September 1st. While not impossible -
look at when we had snow in the spring - it's not likely we'll be hit with a frost then, with an average first frost date of September 25th for us.

The cats like to chase the cicadas and eat them. They don't bite or sting and they aren't toxic to cats or dogs and sometimes they eat them in great numbers. People eat them, too. (Not this people.) Asians and Native Americans have been eating them for centuries and they're said to taste somewhat like asparagus or minty shrimp. Umm ... okay. They are arthropods, as are shrimp, so I guess that makes sense. I'm not about to taste test them, though.

I'm glad they provide entertainment and a treat for the cats, and I like hearing their "Ree-a-Ree-a-Ree!" because it's just one more thing that says it's summer.

Photo of cicada skin from Hilton Pond.


Unknown said...

What a great post... I heard my first "locust" up here tonight while walking the dog, and it reminded me of home. I loved falling asleep with the sound of them ree-a-ree-ree-ing outside my bedroom window. :)

Stratoz said...

thanks for the cicada folklore-- that early frost thing is scary. in the last 8 years the earliest we (SE PA) had was very early in October which took out my peppers....

then of course it turned beautiful for weeks.

the sound is amazing!

KC MO Garden Guy said...

Thanks for all the information about the cicada. I have lived with them my whole life but my neighbor is from Salt Lake City Utah and they don't have them there. She came over one night all frecked out about the sound they make and had no ideal what it was. She thought it might be some wild animal coming to get her. LOL!! After I picked myself off the floor I explanined to her what it was we both had a good laugh. She also said they do not have the cardinal or red bird. Wow, I had never thought about these animals as reginal.

Marc said...

What a great shots of that cicada, and a great post too. You are really writing wonderful posts lately!

I live 20 miles south of Cincinnati, so I know the 17 year cicada very well. There were some houses where the people couldn't use their front doors because there were thousands of cicadas on their porches!

The time before this one, back in 1987, I was working for a landscaping/grass cutting company. The cicadas were attracted to the sound of small engines, so they always swarmed around our riding mowers. We had to wear motorcycle helmets just to keep them off of our heads and faces! What fun.

You scare me. I hope that the 17-year and the 13-year broods never come at the same time!

Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen said...

That was way too much info on the cicada, I'll be having nightmares now. ;-) Glad to read that your kittycats are having a ball!

I'm with the *not this people*! Ewww, imagine having to eat those critters. Doesn't bear thinking about, does it?

Kylee Baumle said...

Yes, it's amazing that some of these things that we take for granted are not in the realm of experience for some people. Lightning bugs are the same for some! I can't imagine not having them in the summer. It just wouldn't be right!

I'm pretty brave about some food things, but there's no way I could eat these. *gag*

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