Earlier this year we broke the sad news that the Washington–Baltimore region would not have the pleasure of enjoying billions of boisterous Brood X cicadas.We suggested a road trip to southwestern Virginia, southern West Virginia, and northern North Carolina to witness the appearance of Brood IX cicadas. Not ones to disappoint, cicadas are emerging in these areas by the billions. Before COVID 19 and lockdown, Bug of the Week was planning a road trip to southern VA to listen to the big boy band in the treetops and revel in this spectacular and unique event that happens nowhere else in the universe except right here (we think).
Periodical cicadas have a marvelous and unusual life cycle for an insect spending either 17 or 13 years mostly underground as nymphs feeding on sap from tree roots. In spring, usually in mid to late May of the 13th or 17th year of their life cycle, nymphs emerge from their subterranean crypts and molt into adults. One of the many wonders of cicadas is that broods of 13 and 17 year cicadas emerge on different years and in different locations. A brood of cicadas emerges somewhere in the eastern or central U.S. almost every year. There are 3 broods of 13 year cicadas and 12 broods of 17 year cicadas. Many of you may remember the spectacular emergence of Brood X up and down the east coast in 2004. Since then, parts of our region have seen cicadas of Brood II, Brood XIV, and Brood XIX. You can learn about Brood XIX by visiting “St. Mary’s survivors – Cicadas of Brood XIX” and learn about Brood II in a lengthy series of episodes beginning in April of 2013 with “Hail Brood II: Magicicada spp.” We also introduced the class of 2021 with Brood X stragglers back in 2017 with “Periodical cicadas up and out of the ground in Maryland, DC, and Virginia – Magicicada spp.”.
Guess what, we are beginning to see the vanguard of Brood X cicadas appearing one year early in the Baltimore-Washington region. Keep an eye out for these cicada stragglers and report your sighting using the free Cicada Safari app.
However, this week we began receiving strange sporadic reports of a few periodical cicadas emerging in the suburbs of Baltimore, Washington, and throughout the DMV. This wonderful event is part of the ongoing mystery surrounding one of Nature’s most magical creatures. Before local cicadaphiles get their hopes too high and cicadaphobes start packing to leave town, please know that this is not a full blown emergence of Brood X. Cicada experts call sightings of a few cicadas in unexpected locations in “off” years, cicada “stragglers.” Stragglers are periodical cicadas that emerge in years prior to or after their brood is expected to emerge. Usually, 17 year cicada stragglers emerge four years prior to their expected emergence date; however it is possible for periodical cicadas to emerge between 8 years earlier and 4 years later than expected. Based on historical data, researchers can associate stragglers with their massive parent brood. This year unexpected stragglers, likely from Brood X, have shown up in our area. The map accompanying this episode provides scientifically vetted accounts of actual sightings of periodical cicadas in our region this spring. This wonderful event has entomologists eager to add new information to our knowledge of these inimitable creatures.
Ok, so cicadaphiles, here is your call to action and a chance to participate in an awesome citizen science project! Cicada researchers are vastly interested in the phenomenon of cicada stragglers, as they may inform us on the evolution of cicadas, their distribution, and the formation of new broods. If enough of these rascals emerge at once, survive, and successfully reproduce, a new brood may be just around the evolutionary corner. To get in on the action, go to the app store on your cellular phone and download the Cicada Safari app. It is free and very easy to use. Download, register, and start snapping pictures of cicadas. Easy as pie. Cicada geniuses will vet your images and add them to a growing data base designed to demystify the seasonal phenology and distribution of these charismatic creatures.
So snap to it and keep your eyes open for cicadas.
We thank Nancy Harding for providing the inspiration for this episode and for sharing the nice image of a cicada. We also thank Dr. Gene Kritsky of Mount St. Joseph University for providing insights into this article and for sharing the distribution map of cicadas as of May 23, 2020 from data assembled from the Cicada Safari app. To learn more about magical periodical cicadas, please visit fabulous repository for all things cicada at Cicada Mania and search the archives at Bug of the Week for “cicada”
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