Got flagging? Flagging happens when tree branches wilt or die due to cicada egg laying, resulting in bunches of brown leaves. Don’t worry, this will not cause trees to die, unless they are small and weak trees. Flagging can actually do a tree a favor, by removing its weakest branches.
Many exuvia clinging to oak leaves. Core Arboretum, WVU.
My plan was to check out Maryland first, then head to West Virginia for a few days, and then Ohio. If weather, time and patience allowed, Virginia and Long Island, New York. Like all my periodical cicada trips I start by consulting the map on Magicicada.org to see where folks are finding cicadas. I also consult with the folks who study periodical cicadas professionally to discover their favorite hot spots and any locations of particular scientific interest. This year, the interesting spot was north-western Maryland — more on that later.
Here’s my own map of my journey in terms of the places I saw/heard cicadas. Generally speaking, you’ll see a lot of pin-drops for Magicicada cassini on the map. This is because you can hear them while driving at 70mph. You often have to stop your car and turn off the engine to hear the other species, so even though there’s lots of M. cassini on the map, there’s probably just as much M. septendecim. Generally speaking, my mapping methodology works like this: I stop and take notes when I can (usually at rest stops, parks or when I’m staying in a particular town — see Morgantown & Athens later in the article) and this is when I’ll hear M. septendecim & M. septendecula, but when I’m driving interstate highways at high speeds (with a parade of angry drivers who would rather tailgate me that use the left lane to go around me) I can only take data points for M. cassini.
What do I bring with me on a seven day cicada road trip? Aside from clothes, road food, smartphone, and my AAA card, I bring equipment to aide my study of cicadas:
A junk computer. A decrepit laptop that I won’t care if it gets stolen.
A video camera.
A device for measuring sound level (decibels).
A notepad and pen (because technology fails).
Butterfly pavilions, which are these expandable enclosures for holding and observing insects.
Containers for holding dead specimens, and silica gel to keep them dry. Note: before you collect, make sure it is legal in the location you plan to collect. Collecting wildlife from National Parks is illegal. Collecting cicadas from a Hampton Inn parking lot is usually okay.
Suntan lotion and Bug Spray. I like insects, but ticks and mosquitos can turn cicada observation into a nightmare. Many researchers wear pyrethrum treated clothes (yes, bad for cats).
The first town I hit was Accident, Maryland (great name). There were sightings on the Magicicada.org map, and the name of the town was awesome, so I wanted to check it out. Unfortunately I didn’t observe any cicadas there.
Route 68, West Virginia
Traveling west along Route 68, about half-way between the center of Bruceton Mills and Coopers Rock State Forest I started to hear pockets of M. cassini. I stopped at Coopers Rock, and at first I was disappointed: I didn’t hear any cicadas from my car. Once I stopped my car and turned off the engine I could hear them: M. septendecim with their spooky sci-fi UFO chorus in the distance. It became obvious that the park had a healthy population of M. septendecim, with a smattering of M. cassini as well.
Next I arrived at Morgantown, WV. Some twitter friends had been posting cicada photos from there, so I thought it would be a good location to set up base and make observations for a few days. The hotel I chose had an excellent population of M. septedecim and cassini around it; so much so that the staff couldn’t keep up with unwanted cicada guests that littered their doorway, trampled by oblivious human guests.
My first day there I walked around the West Virginia University campus near the hospital, stadium & iHop. The sky was overcast and it was getting late in the afternoon, but it was clear that the campus and town had an abundance of periodical cicadas, and that I made a good choice in setting up camp there. At night, in my hotel parking lot, I was able to watch cicadas emerge as nymphs as transform into adults, which is always a highlight of an emergence for me.
WVU Core Arboretum
Core Arboretum is a large botanical garden devoted to trees (“arbor”) on the WVU campus. It was an excellent place to observe cicadas. I was able to observe all three species, the tiny but LOUD M. cassini, the larger & relatively docile M. septendecim, and the rarest of the species M. septendecula. Finding M. septendecula so early in my trip was a treat. Their clockwork/tambourine sound (at least that’s what I think they sound like) gave them away.
I met entomologists Matt Berger, who has contributed many cicada photos to this site over the years, and his colleague HereBeSpiders11 (twitter name). Awesome people. I met Zachariah Fowler, the director of the arboretum as well. Another awesome person.
A white-eyed Magicicada septendecim.
I was able to check off many of my cicada checklist items in Morgantown: I found a white-eyed cicada, I saw & heard all three species, and more.
Leaving West Virginia, Entering Ohio
M. cassini were plentiful along route 79 and 50 headed west towards Athens, Ohio. Along the way I made a few stops and heard & observed some M. septendecim as well.
Athens was another good location to stay and observe cicadas. The parks in the surrounding area had excellent cicada populations, and I had a rare chance to meet John Cooley of Magicicada.org.
My first day in Athens I spent at Dow Lake in Strouds Run State Park. There I met John Cooley who was there showing a German film crew the particulars of cicada behavior. Dow Lake had a healthy mix of LOUD M. cassini and M. septendecim, but the cassini definitely dominated. The highlight for me was not a cicada, but spotting a rat snake climbing down from an acacia tree where it was no-doubt snacking on cicadas.
Sells Park in Athens was a nice place to hear VERY LOUD M. cassini choruses, well into the high 80-90db mark. So loud that I limited by time there, and left after an hour.
Hocking Hills is an amazing park north of Athens than features a spectacular above-ground cave and many acres of forest filled with cicadas. Hocking Hills had a good population of all three species, and M. septendecula were unusually easy to find. They seem to have preferred areas where deciduous trees blended with evergreens, at least in the locations I found.
Vinton Furnace Experimental Forest
A Magicicada cassini chorus from the Experimental Forest:
A Magicicada chorus with audible M. septendecula from the Experimental Forest:
Vinton Furnace Experimental Forest is a forest curated to include as much biological diversity as possible. All three periodical cicada species make up part of that diversity. M. septendcula choruses were very easy to find. The forest was thrilling to visit — aside from the biting deer flies, it was exhilarating to see or hear so many species of insects, birds and plants in one place. Also, thrilling were the winding one-lane dirt roads; I almost died a few times thanks to wild drivers out for a pretend Finland Rally race.
Back to Maryland
After an overnight stop back in Morgantown, WV, I headed back to Maryland to prove (or disprove) that periodical cicadas were there, and if I did find them, the extent of their population. It is important to show the limits of their population as researchers (John Cooley in particular) are interesting in demonstrating that the Brood V population in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia & Maryland is distinct from the population in Virginia.
I’m happy to report that I did find periodical cicadas in Maryland. The populations were mostly the relatively quieter M. septendecim — the type you really have to stop the car & turn off the engine to be certain they’re there. I did find M. cassini as well, but M. septendecim dominated. The adorably named Friendsville and Selbysport had good populations, as did the hill above the Youghioghheny river overlook rest stop on I68. South of this area, I did not hear or see cicadas on Bear Creek Road, Rt 42, rt 219 or rt 495. It is possible there are pockets of cicadas deep in the woods and out of earshot in those areas, but it is clear there was no great population of periodical cicadas in those areas, if any at all. I spoke to a chainsaw bear sculptor in Bittinger, which is not far from where the Appalachian Plateau ends & the Ridge and Valley area starts. I showed him a photo of a periodical cicada. He said he had never seen them in his life, and nor did he see them in Accident where he went to church. He did hear about them on the news, so he was aware of them.
Pennsylvania, and home
After collecting cicada data and buying a chainsaw bear, I headed north into Pennsylvania. I stopped at a rest stop, enjoyed the last I would hear of Brood V, and headed back home.
There was an unexpected* emergence of periodical cicadas in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania this spring. Experts believe it is a disjunct brood related to Brood XIV. Brood XIV is found in the area, according to entomologist and Pennsylvania-based periodical cicada mapper Marten Edwards, but perhaps not in the exact same specific locations. Brood II is also in the area, but on the other side of the mountain. Although this group of cicadas emerged the same year as Brood V, it probably is not related (genetically & evolutionary), but that is TBD.
The terrain of the Jim Thorpe area is comprised of mountains & valleys belonging to the Appalachian Mountain system of the Eastern United States. I observed cicadas on mountain sides and in lower valley areas. They seemed most plentiful and gregarious on the edges of the forest, preferring small, young maple trees where they gathered, sang, paired off, mated and died. Although their numbers were lesser deep in the woods, I did find exit holes and exuvia there. The most interesting discovery was finding a fully sclerotized, but dead, adult cicada within an overturned tea cup left in the shade of an old tree. I discovered a few “cicada chimneys”, vertical structures made of soil surrounding exit holes, under pine trees where the cicadas seemed to need to extra hight to get above the thick layer of pine needles that littered the forest floor.
The best populations seemed to be along the Lehigh Gorge Trail from its entrance on Main Street to the Lehigh Gorge, and north, up the mountain the Lehigh Gorge Trail circumscribes, all the way to to Lehigh Gorge Drive. The trees along Route 903, starting at Old Pipeline Road and heading south, were loaded with active cicadas — so many, that it was hard to avoid their flying bodies as I drove towards downtown Jim Thorpe.
Here is a map of where I saw them. If you want to see them, go this weekend (June 24-26). They were plentiful in the Lehigh Gorge area:
The population seems to be entirely made up of Magicicada septendecim. No Magicicada cassini or septendecula were found (so far).
The annual cicada species are out now (now means May to September) around the United States. Not all annual cicadas are out yet — some won’t arrive until late summer — but many are currently out in the southernmost states, and will soon arrive in northern states.
Brood V (5) 17-year cicadas have emerged, this spring of 2016, in Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia & West Virginia.
(6/26/16): By now you should see (and hear) sharp declines in cicada populations. They’ll be gone in most places by July 4th. You should start to see Flagging of tree limbs where the cicadas lay their eggs. This is a natural part of the process.
When: Generally speaking, these cicadas will begin to emerge when the soil 8″ beneath the ground reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit. A nice, warm rain will often trigger a emergence. So, definitely May, but something might happen in April if we have a particularly hot spring.
Although the cicadas will emerge in MD, NY, OH, PA, VA and WV, the area is limited and patchy. No Brood V cicadas for D.C., Cincinnati, or NYC (people have asked). Their range is closer to this map (with cicadas in the orange areas):
Specific locations in L.I.:
Wildwood State Park – Confirmed!
Counties:Suffolk (Long Island).
Specific locations in Ohio:
The emergence should be good in the south eastern part of the state and in Summit, Medina, and southern Cuyahoga counties1.
Hocking State Forest, Hocking county, which is where James Edward Heath performed his investigation of periodical cicada Thermal Synchronization2.
Tar Hollow State Forest, in Laurelville, Hocking County, Ohio.
Strouds Run State Park, in Canaan Township, Athens County.
Read the paper: The 1999 Emergence of the Periodical Cicadas in Ohio (Homopetera: Cicadidae: Magicicada spp. Brood V) by Gene Kritsky, Jessee Smith, and Nicola T. Gallagher, published in 1999 in the journal Ohio Biological Survey.
You might notice that some cicadas have shriveled-up or otherwise damaged wings. Most of the time, wings become damaged during the molting process (ecdysis), specifically while their wings harden (sclerotize). Their wings, and body, are most vulnerable when they are still soft.
Some reasons why a cicadas’s wings might not get the chance to inflate and harden:
If a cicada molts and its wings are not able to hang downward they won’t inflate with fluids and form properly.
Cicadas often trample each other in the rush to find a place on a tree to molt.
Harsh weather, like wind and rain, knock them to the ground or bend their wings when they’re soft.
Physical weakness or defects.
Just 10 Magicicada (American periodical cicadas) generations ago, the U.S. was mostly forest. Back then it was easy to find a vertical surface to molt on, or a plant stem to hang from. Today most forests have been replaced with agriculture, buildings, lawns, roads, sidewalks, parking lots, etcetera — so it has become increasingly difficult for periodical cicadas to find a good place to hang.
Magicicada can afford to lose a large number of their population due to wing malformations and other critical defects, because there are simply so many of them — this loss falls in line with their predator satiation strategy.
However, if Magicicada lose too much habitat, they will go extinct (brood XI went extinct about 60 years ago). Lawns, roads, sidewalks, and other features of our human habitat create surfaces that are insalubrious for cicada molting.
In the video below, you will see a cicada molting. Note that its wings are able to hang downward and inflate to form properly shaped wings. If the cicada tried to molt on a vertical surface, the odds are its wings would be crumpled.
In the image below, there is a Neotibicen tibicen (not a periodical cicada) that sclerotized (hardened) before completely shedding its nymphal skin.
Although adorable, this Neotibicen will never sing or fly.
If you plan on keeping cicadas for a few hours, many containers will do. Just keep them in the shade, make sure the container is ventilated (has holes so air can flow in and out), and add a moist paper towel for a source of water & moisture.
I prefer to use Butterly Pavilions, which are small, expandable, portable enclosures. You can reuse them for other insects once the cicadas have gone.
Any Longer than a few hours, and you should make sure the cicadas have a source of fluids — the best source is a tree branch.
Cicada researcher & enthusiast Elias Bonaros shared his secrets for keeping adult cicadas alive. His record is 28 days for a Neotibicen auletes.
I usually used oak branches for above two species. I placed them into a butterfly pavilion. I used a small spring water bottle into the enclosure and placed the end of the branch into it. Be sure to place some paper towel or cotton in the open spaces at the mouth of the bottle because I had some specimens walk into the bottle and drown! Our beloved cicadas are not too bright.
I have never tried the sapling although that would seem the best as the tree can generate its own xylem pressure.
I change the branch every day vs every other day. Every third day is not good.
Takes a lot of work.
Another idea is to surround a branch of a live tree with netting, and place them in that — the same type of netting you would use to keep them off a branch will keep them on it.
The advantage of a Butterfly Pavilion is you can keep the cicada inside your home or lab.
Is it possible to raise cicadas? It is, but it requires patience and commitment.
The master of raising cicadas is a Japanese amateur cicada biologist named Shougo Murayama. Shougo has raised more than 1,000 cicadas of six or more species from eggs to adults in his backyard by growing them in see-through pots in clay soil with Aloe or Yucca plants. You can visit his website for more information (tip: use Firefox for better display of the text & then cut and paste it into Google translate). According to Shougo Murayama’s website, the cicadas he raised had 2 to 5 year life cycles.
David Logan of New Zealand successfully raised Kikihia ocharina cicadas from egg to adult. The details of this study can be found in the article Nymphal development and lifecycle length of Kikihia ocharina from 2006. It is important to note that K. ocharina have a short 3 year lifespan, and Logan raised the nymphs in pots with live plants. Logan’s study includes a section about care of the cicada’s egg before they hatch; hatching can take months, so this part is important. Logan placed the twig with eggs in a vial which he blocked with a moist material.
Logan conducted another study in 2014, this time with Amphipsalta zelandica (Boisduval), proving his methods work.
Richard Karban raised 15-year-old Magicicada nymphs to adulthood using peach trees as hosts for his study of how periodical cicadas keep track of time. This is not quite the same thing as raising cicadas from eggs, but it shows they can be raised outside of their natural habitat. Karban observed a high rate of mortality from the difficult process of transferring cicadas to new roots.
Most people who visit this website (Cicada Mania) are looking for American periodical cicada (Magicicada) information. Raising Magicicada would be quite a commitment. You’ll need an environment that mimics the Magicicada’s natural habitat, including the right soil & host plans, and you’ll need to maintain for at least 13 years (for the 13 year species, 17 years for the 17).
If you’re serious and live in the United States, a cicada with a short lifecycle like Diceroprocta apache will require less of a commitment.
Should you decide to raise cicadas, be sure to read the resources mentioned in this article, and consider the following tips:
Expect 95% of the cicadas to die
Care of the eggs is critical
Use host plants and soil preferred by the species
Use a species that has a short life cycle
Use see-through pots so you can see the cicadas as they develop
I might consider doing this experiment myself, but I would definitely choose a species with a short life-span. I might place some grasses in the pot, in addition to a larger host plant, to give 1st instar nymphs more tiny roots to choose from. I have a (perhaps irrational) fear of a house guest dumping a cup off coffee into my cicada host plant and killing the entire experiment.
Thanks to Chris Simon of The Simon Lab at UConn for pointing me to many of these references.
Logan, DP. 2006. Nymphal development and lifecycle length of Kikihia ocharina (Walker)(Homopetera:Cicadidae). The Weta, 31:12-22.
Logan, DP, Rowe CA, Maher BJ. 2014. Life history of chorus cicada, an endemic pest of Kiwifruit (Homopetera:Cicadidae). New Zealand Entomologist. 37:2:96-102.
Karban, R, Black CA, Weinbaum SA. 2000. How 17-year cicadas keep track of time. Ecology Letters. 3: 253-256.