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Published: Wednesday, 5/1/2013

Call of the wild: Cicadas have emerged from 17-year slumber on East Coast

BY ROSE RUSSELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A close up of the head of a cicada. A close up of the head of a cicada.
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It will be a few months before northwest Ohioans hear the summer music of cicadas beckoning one another to mate, even though in some parts of the nation the insects have emerged from the ground by the billions.

As the “cousins” of the 13- and 17-year insects, cicadas here show up annually, according to Bob Jacksy, naturalist at the Toledo Area Metroparks. Research has found cicadas with one, two, and three-year cycles and that every year some come up from the ground.

“Some people think the 13- and 17-year cicadas evolved to that pattern so that predators are less likely to adapt to their breeding cycle,” he said. “However, there is a predator called the cicada killer-wasp, that regularly dines on cicadas.”

And boy do they.

“The adult wasps only want to find a cicada. They sting and numb the cicada and put it in a coma, lay their eggs on the cicada, and when the eggs hatch, they eat the cicada,” Mr. Jacksy said.

The large wasps, which look intimidating, are harmless to people because their focus is limited to the insects. In this area, the wasps are in Ottawa Park and in Secor, Swan Creek, Wildwood Preserve, and Side Cut metroparks.

Clearly, this is not for the squeamish, so it might ease some to know that cicadas won’t come in droves here as they are in the nation’s capital now, where the 17-year insects will be around for about six weeks, reports say. And scientists expect this to be a larger group than the one that showed up in the capital in 2004. How big? Try 1.5 million buzzing bugs per acre.

Don’t confuse cicadas with locusts, though. They are two different insects.

“Many folks hear a cicada and think it’s a locust,” Mr. Jacksy said. “Simply put, a locust is in the grasshopper family and is a voracious eater, as an adult, the cicada is neither.”

Additionally, while locusts chew their food, cicadas suck theirs.

In northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, the insects will appear about mid July through September.

“I always tell the kids that when they hear cicadas, that’s about four weeks before school starts,” Mr. Jacksy said, laughing.

“When they come out as adults, they mate and die,” Mr. Jacksy said, adding that they dine mostly on parts of tree roots before they come out of the ground. “They do all their eating as grubs in the soil, so they are not out feeding at all, but just courting when they are out. And courting is the music or buzzing sound we hear that’s made by the organs on the cicadas’ abdomens; they vibrate their abdomens.”

Cicada-killer wasp on top of a cicada. Cicada-killer wasp on top of a cicada.
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He said the 13- and 17-year insects are also mostly in southern regions of the nation.

“Usually the farther south you go you get the 13-year cicada. Up around here we get mostly the annuals. We haven’t had the 13- or 17-year ones since about the late ’80s, though there was a huge outbreak in Cincinnati a few years ago,” Mr. Jacksy said. “They mate and they die or are eaten. Birds love to eat them. You get a lot of ounce to your pounce if you grab a cicada.”

In Cincinnati, in Covington, Ky., and farther south, Mr. Jacksy said there are so many cicadas that when they die, they pile up like leaves.

“It would be interesting” if that were happen in this region, he said. “It would give us something to talk about for years to come. There are millions that come out of the ground simultaneously.”

They live underground and when they emerge they shed their skeletons, spread their wings, start their music, mate, and die. Mr. Jacksy said that they are harmless to people.

“You can pick them up and throw them like an airplane and they take off flying again,” he said. “They are a lot of fun; they are a blast, just the sound they make. They start out in the day real slow, and by sunset, it’s a real rapid buzzing sound. They can be in the beak of a bird and they still make that buzzing sound. It’s possible they could be buzzing when birds swallow them. It could be partially alive when it’s being ingested.

“It’s a great story. It’s fantastic. It’s good social currency to talk about,” the naturalist added.

Contact Rose Russell at rrussell@theblade.com or 419-724-6178.



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