Cicada Mania

Dedicated to cicadas, the most amazing insects in the world.

June 28, 2008

Notes on the Locusta; Septentrionalis americanae decem septima

Filed under: Magicicada — Dan @ 6:30 pm

I found another old cicada document, this one is called “Notes on the Locusta; Septentrionalis americanae decem septima“. It was published in 1839, and written by Nathaniel Potter. I haven’t read it yet, but it would be interesting to compare it to C.L. Marlatt’s Periodical Cicada bulletin (1898), and documentation written in the 1990s and 2000s.

Here’s a nice illustration from Potter’s book:

Notes on the Locusta; Septentrionalis americanae decem septima

Notes on the Locusta; Septentrionalis americanae decem septima

What is the purpose of cicadas?

Filed under: FAQs | Magicicada — Dan @ 11:35 am

Here’s a question we get a lot: “what is the purpose of cicadas?” It can be a loaded question, but I think people just want a concrete answer to justify the magnitude of the unusual (why only once every 17 years, why so many) or annoying (inconvenience, noise, ornamental tree damage) aspects of the 17-year cicadas. Every living thing has a reason for existing, a niche to fill, a role to play, a purpose — let’s consider how cicadas fit it to the big picture.

It helps to consider perspective when considering the purpose. I’ll break their purpose down into 4 groups, for this: critters, fungi, trees, and people. Critters first, because their relationship with cicadas is the easiest to explain.

The cicada’s purpose in terms of critters:

Cicadas provide a link in the food chain between trees and critters, which I’ll define as any animal that will eat a cicada. Critters love cicadas, and a 17-year cicada emergence is the single greatest feast of their lives. It’s like 17 years of Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthday parties rolled into one incredible month.

Trees feed off the sun and nutrients in the soil, cicadas feed off the trees, critters eat cicadas, and alpha predators (wolves, foxes, bears, cats, game fish, people) eat critters. The massive release of food and energy that comes from a cicada emergence results in an explosion of critter populations, which in turn results in a boon for alpha predators as well.

The cicada’s purpose in terms of fungi:

I’m not a fungi expert, but I’m pretty sure different species of fungi have a grand time digesting dead cicada bodies once they’ve died and begin to rot (I’m sure the same is true for bacteria, and microscopic critters). Fungi, of course, become another link in the food chain.

There is one fungus, the Massospora cicadina fungus, that really loves cicadas. The Massospora cicadina spreads via cicada mating and destroys the cicadas entire abdomen in a matter of days. If you’re a Massospora cicadina, from your perspective, the cicadas purpose is to provide you with nourishment and a home. Gruesome, but true.

The cicada’s purpose in terms of trees:

Periodical cicadas are parasites of trees, more specifically of deciduous trees (leaves fall off in the fall) native to the region in which the periodical cicadas exist (maples, oaks, ash, etc.). The term parasite has negative connotations, but in the grand scheme of things, parasites can benefit their hosts, or other species by keeping their hosts in check.

Cicadas provide trees a service by pruning the weak branches of a tree. Cicadas lay eggs in the branch, weak branches wither and die (“flagging”), and the tree benefits from that by not having to waste energy on a weak or diseased branch.

Cicadas also do the trees a service by dying and releasing a vast amount of nutrients back into the soil. When the cicadas die, it’s like dumping bags of fertilizer around the roots of the trees. The extra nutrients should result in a spurt in tree growth and seed production the following spring, which would result in an increase in tree populations (and acorns, which critters love to eat).

A small percentage of small, weak trees will die during each emergence, particularly non-native species (like imported ornamentals). This can be frustrating for people concerned with the landscaping on their property, but in terms of trees in general, it’s not as bad as it seems. The fertilizing and pruning cicadas perform will actually benefit the older trees in such a way that will encourage them to produce more seeds the following year. Any loss of trees will be balanced by gains in the following years. Also, cicadas may do native trees a favor by weakening or killing non-native ornamental trees, which compete for the native tree’s food.

The cicada’s purpose in terms of people:

Cicadas are a food source. Many people around the world eat cicadas, and not just “on a dare”, but as a delicacy or staple food. Cicadas have made more than one appearance on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern for instance. Native American peoples also ate cicadas too — and in at least one case it kept a tribe alive during hard times. In most places, though, cicadas are not a sustainable found source, so insectivore gourmets should rely on easily farmable insects like crickets, waxworms, and mealworms.

Cicadas provide people with a job. Those people include professors and researchers like Gene Kritsky or John Cooley, scientists, and landscapers.

Cicadas provide people, including me, with a hobby. There are a lot worse things you can do with your time.

Cicadas provide artists and musicians with inspiration. There are bands and albums named after cicadas, and many songs inspired by cicadas.

Cicadas defending America? Could be. The Navy is researching cicadas according to the Massachusetts Cicadas site.

Cicadas provide memories. If you think about it, we people don’t have all that many milestone experiences in our lives: we have our first day at school, graduations, we get our first car, weddings, we buy your first house, children are born, loved ones pass away, special vacations, and maybe we experience a flood, fire or other unfortunate but remarkable events. A periodical cicada emergence is remarkable because it not only places a memorable milestone in the timeline of our lives, it places a series of them; a series of milestones, 17 years apart, and not only within our lives, but linking our historical timelines to the timelines of your children, and grandchildren. Gene Kritsky calls cicadas the insects of history, and I think you can understand why.

Recently, cicadas were discovered to have microscopic structures on their wings that destroy bacteria. This is discovery is being used to inspire medical advancements, such as antibacterial cornea replacements. Amazing.

Some papers on this topic, and other scientific uses for cicada wings and skins:

Cicadas can also be used to gauge soil pollution, as they spend most of their life in the soil they absorb the chemicals introduced into the soil from human pollution.

June 5, 2008

Magicicada emergence in Mariemont Ohio in 2008

Filed under: Brood XIV | Magicicada | Video — Dan @ 8:56 am

Magicicada adults and nymphs in Mariemont Ohio in 2008.

Magicicada emergence in Mariemont Ohio in 2008 from Cicada Mania.

June 1, 2008

Eclosing Magicicada in Roy Troutman’s backyard

Filed under: Brood XIV | Magicicada | Video — Dan @ 6:37 am

Eclosing/molting Magicicada in Roy Troutman's backyard on June 1st 2008 in Ohio.

Eclosing Magicicada in Roy Troutman's backyard from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

May 31, 2008

Eclosing Magicicadas in Loveland Ohio

Filed under: Brood XIV | Magicicada | Video — Dan @ 6:41 am

Eclosing/Molting Magicicadas on May 31st, 2008 in Loveland Ohio.

Eclosing Magicicadas in Loveland Ohio from Cicada Mania on Vimeo.

May 29, 2008

Another fine cicada photo from Flickr

Filed under: Magicicada — Dan @ 7:37 pm

2687c, originally uploaded by brandonbatie.

I really like the eyes in this photo. All 5 eyes!

May 18, 2008

Roy’s cicadas emerge in captivity

Filed under: Brood XIV | Magicicada | Periodical | Roy Troutman — Dan @ 7:32 am

Like Matt Berger, Roy Troutman was able to observe Magicicadas emerge in captivity. Here’s an excellent photo of one of Roy’s cicadas.


Cicada Emergence Update

Filed under: Brood XIV | Magicicada | Periodical — Dan @ 6:50 am

Shawn McLeod in Flemingsburg, Kentucky has reported a light emergence (3 cicadas).

John Hupka has reported empty shells of Cicadas in Nashville, Davidson Co, Tennessee!

Diane has reported “The Cicadas have arrived in our trees. We are 30 miles northwest of Nashville, TN. They seem to like our sycamore trees.”

Sherry has reported “I just got back from Cades Coves Tennessee the Magicicada were in the emergence stage both nights.”

Greg Stamper reported “Hazard, Kentucky – The Cicada started slowly a week ago now are beginning to pick up speed.”

John reported “I live in Floyd County Kentucky ans there are hundreds of them coming out.”

Tammy reported “I live in Corbin KY and my house is COVERED!!!!”

Also check out the Where Are They Now map on the Mount’s Cicada Web Site.

May 11, 2008

Another Periodical Cicada Photo on Flickr

Filed under: Magicicada | Periodical — Dan @ 9:11 pm

Cicada, originally uploaded by blanp.

By this time next week will be swarming with cicada photos.

May 7, 2008

The Brood XIV emergence has begun

Filed under: Brood XIV | Magicicada — Dan @ 9:10 am

Folks, we just got word from Gene Kritsky that an adult was reported emerging in Maderia, Ohio today. The emergence has begun; expect large numbers of cicadas to start appearing within the next 10 days in most areas. Get your cameras, camcorders, audio recording devices and fishing rods ready.

From Gene:

I had my first report of an adult periodical cicada emerging in Madeira, a suburb of Cincinnati today. So the early ones are starting.

Read the news story.

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