Since 2013 I’ve met Elias Bonaros and Annette DeGiovine in Manchester, New Jersey to search for the cicada Neotibicen auletes. It has become an annual tradition.
N. auletes is the largest cicada in the Americas, they have a particularly arresting call, and are a beautiful lime green when recently molted. They are definitely worth taking the time to find.
Locating and observing cicadas in northern States can be particularly vexing because they are far less abundant, and much of their habitat has been eliminated to make way for the ever-growing, densely-packed human population. It is a treat any time we can find and observe a living cicada specimen up-close. If you’re the type who likes to travel to observe cicadas, New Jersey is not a great place to start on the east coast. Southern states, starting at North Carolina to Florida are your best bets, in terms of species diversity and abundance. If you’re a collector, be aware of local laws — for instance, collecting in Florida is completely forbidden.
This year’s adventure began around 7:15pm when I arrived at the mini-mall where Caballero’s Pizzeria is located (Manchester, NJ on Route 70). Part of the tradition is to have a few slices of pizza, and after four years the owner knows who we are. The mini-mall the pizzeria is located in is bordered on the right by a sandy-soil pine & oak forest, and in front by two small groves of tall oaks & pines. Oddly, the ground of these groves has been covered with a back mesh tarp, which completely prevents underbrush growth. This doesn’t seem to deter cicadas from emerging, bu I’m skeptical that future generations of cicadas will find the smaller plant roots they need during the early stages of life.
At 7:15pm the small and beautiful Neocicada hieroglyphica cicadas were singing from many trees in groves and forest (they would continue singing to around 9pm, well past sunset). Around 7:30pm Neotibicen linnei began to join them.
Elias and Annette arrived shortly before sunset, around 8pm, giving them time and daylight to scout the grounds for deceased adult specimens and exuvia (molted skins); oddly none were found. Neotibicen auletes calls at dusk, right after sunset. On queue multiple N. auletes began calling from the trees in the groves and forest, like a soloist overpowering the lesser vocalists and instruments around him, N. auletes are the divas of the New Jersey cicada opera.
Elias photographing an auletes:
No exuvia or dead N. auletes was found, but the many calls we heard were encouraging. Once night fell we began to search the local area for emerging nymphs and molting adults. After a long search Elias found a single female auletes molting on the side of a school. Three hours of searching only yeilded one cicada — for those who have experienced periodical cicada emergences, or those who live in areas with an abundance of annual species, a lone cicada would be very disappointing. For Elias, Annette and I, finding a lone (locally) rare cicada, was not disappointing at all.
The funniest moment of the night came when a local policeman asked us if we were hunting Pokemon! Of course we were not — we were hunting cicadas. A little harder to explain, and probably more fun.
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.
Elias Bonaros shared these photos of Neocicada hieroglyphica that he observed emerging in Riverhead, Long Island, New York, which is the north-most point of their range, as documented by William T. Davis.
They were taken today, July 13th, 2015.
Here is the Neocicada hieroglyphica hieroglyphica exiting its nymphal skin.
The emergence of Brood XXIII is well underway in the states along the Mississippi, and Brood IV should kick off in the west as soon as it stops raining every day. These aren’t the only Magicicada periodical cicadas emerging in the U.S. this year — some stragglers will emerge as well.
A straggler is a periodical cicada that emerges before or after the rest of its brood. Typically a straggler belonging to a 17 year brood will emerge 4 years early, but they might also emerge a year early, or a year late, or even 4 years late. This probability chart, details the probability of a straggler emergence.
In 2015 you might find the following stragglers:
Brood XIII 17 year cicadas emerging 4 years early in OH, PA, WVA.
Brood V 17 year cicadas emerging 1 year early in NY, OH, PA, VA, WVA.
Brood XIX 13 year periodical cicadas emerging 4 years late in AL, AR, GA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MO, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, VA
Brood XXII 13 year cicadas emerging a year late in LA, MS, OH, KY
Tyla MacAllister found a Brood XIX Magicicada straggler (emerged 4 years late) in Alabama!