THE INSECT DOC SAYS...
Head cicadamaniac Professor Mike Raupp answers your questions.
- Could you
please let me know what purpose cicadas serve? I'm really curious.
This is quite a deep question. What purpose do any of us serve? I have described their purpose as a "Circle of Life" kind of a thing. Cicadas take from the circle by feeding on the sap of trees for 17 years and give back to the circle by being a feast for a myriad of animals. They are intimatelylinked to food webs including ours. This spring, trout had tummies full of cicada nymphs. Foxes, raccoons, pheasants, and other birds also prospered on the bounty. Perhaps a bumper crop of birds that fledged this year will reduce the caterpillars that consume our trees next year. I cannot help but think that thousands of rather large holes beneath my trees, created by emerging nymphs, serve as a conduit for nutrients and water and provide some needed aeration for my badly compacted soil. Beyond all of this, for thousands of youngsters and oldsters, the cicadas provide a remarkable and rare opportunity to observe nature in its strange and wonderful glory, all in the convenience and safety of the back yard.
- I live in Frederick and don’t see any cicadas. Where are they?
Do not despair. I have just reviewed emergence records of cicadas in
Maryland back to 1953. I have records from Harford,Baltimore, Washington, Frederick, and Allegany that show cicada emergence through the entire month of June and as late as July 3. Be patient and cool. Way to early to worry.
- Do Brood X cicadas have the highest known density of terrestrial animals?
Certainly many species of mites have densities that far exceed those of the cicada. I have counted in excess of 700 rust mites on 20 hemlock needles. So, I think cicadas are not even close.
- Where are the cicadas in Pasadena?
I think your statement that Pasadena was once a beach probably says it all. These guys don't seem to be found in sandy coastal soils very much. If Pasadena was once under water at some time during the last 10,000 years or so, then the cicadas probably were
eliminated and may not have found their way back. It could also be that
there were never any cicadas there at all. Perhaps, as time goes by they will be able to set up shop in your community. We will have to wait and see.
- I heard as they die, they smell. Is this true?
We all smell when we die.
- How do I get rid of the smell? Should I sprinkle them with lime?
Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot you can do about the smell, except to rake or shovel up the dead bugs and throw them on a compost heap or in the trash. Much like any dead animal, they smell, and I am guessing that if you had a pile of dead squirrels in your yard you would probably just pick them up and throw them away rather than sprinkling lime on them.
- Because birds and other predators are preoccupied with cicadas will other species of insects increase?
We don't know the answer to this. What we do know is that the birds this year will raise young more successfully than in other years due to the cicada bounty. Hopefully, this will translate into fewer pests on trees in subsequent years.
- Why does the old exoskeleton still have the legs on it? Does the cicada grow new legs?
The same tissue layer that formed the old legs of the nymph
creates the new legs of the adult. The new skin detaches from the old skin just before the molt emergence of the adult) and the adult pulls the new soft legs out of the hard old ones. The legs become hard and functional with a couple of hours of the molt. Wicked cool stuff!
- We live in Florida and are planning a family camping vacation to
and Shenandoah National Park from June 6-14, 2004. I just heard about
Brood X cicadas expected during that time. Should we postpone our
Please do not postpone your trip. I specifically traveled to Luray
17 years ago in spring to witness and enjoy this rare biological
cicadas were singing and flying by the thousands in the parking lot of
caverns. My children, then 5 and 8 years old, were fascinated and
speak of this experience to this day.
- Will our travel be hampered (i.e., visability, damage to the front end
of our car)?
- How will the noise affect us outside all day--camping in a tent and
hiking through the National Park?
You will be amazed by their numbers and levels of activity. They will
boisterous, chorusing in the day. Try to learn to distinguish among the
three different species that will be present. Observe their calls and
behavior. Watch the different types of wildlife that capture and eat
Collect their shed skins on the trunks of trees.
- What about their droppings--will it be all over us and our tent?
They do not make solid droppings.
- What was it like in 1987 in this area?
It was spectacular.
- Will they swarm all around us--in our face?
You are of no consequence to them. They will not be attracted to you.
may bump into you just as they would a tree or a stone as they go about
their business of finding mates, avoiding predators, and laying eggs.
- If we decide to wait, when in July would be a good time to go to avoid
You could visit in the second half of July but why deny yourself
the chance to experience an event that is unique anywhere on the
- Do they only make noise from dawn to dusk? I am hoping we will be
sleep, as a tent provides no soundproofing.
I doubt that the songs of the cicadas will disturb your
sleep. However, the sheer anticipation of waiting for another day to
cicadas would make it hard for me to sleep!
- You said they make no solid droppings. Does this mean they have a
liquid or wet dropping (e.g. bird droppings)I am afraid that my new
will be covered with stains.
new tent will become stained anyway and the sooner you receive mother -
nature's baptism, the sooner your "first stain" anxiety will end.
- At what height do they fly/swarm?
They do not swarm but will fly at
heights in the canopy where mates are common and egg-laying sites are
plentiful. In forests with large trees they will be high in the canopy.
Where trees are small, site with recently transplanted trees or at the
forest edge, the cicadas will be flying low.
- Will they be at our level
(under 6 feet) or are they high up in the trees?
It depends where you are.
- I read somewhere that we will be picking them out of our hair!
should hope so! You certainly would not want to go out to dinner with
cicadas in your hair, although I will be wearing them on my clothing as
encounter them. They are fascinating to watch. Please remember, most
contemporary hairstyles for women do not lend themselves to entrapping
large insects. If you are wearing the "big hair, 60's look", well, you
on your own.
- How bad is the smell as they die?
In a forest or park where scavengers are
abundant, I doubt that the cadavers will remain around too long or
too stinky. The little ghouls of the forest should tidy things up
- I'm going to level with you: I hate the cicadas. My question is, why
we can put a man on the moon, but can't rid ourselves of the cicadas? I
already expect you to give me the party line about how beautiful they
but I'd love to see them gone. Is it possible to eradicate them, or
go ahead and reserve my beekeepers suit through 2065?
No, you are not getting the party line that cicadas are beautiful.
other insects are far more beautiful than the lowly cicada unless
male cicada checking out the red-eyed babes. Eradication is unlikely.
insect clan is ancient. They've been around for roughly 300 hundred
years. As a species, you and I have been here a mere 200,000 - 300,000
years. Insects have survived the worst cataclysmic events in planetary
history - meteors, ice ages, droughts, and floods. We do, however,
the technology to annihilate cicadas and the rest of their sorry lot.
Unfortunately, global thermonuclear incineration creates much
damage. Little by little we may be ridding ourselves of these rascals.
populations of cicadas will have been extirpated since the last time we
Brood X in 1987. We have cut down the trees they need to survive and
over their subterranean homes with parking lots. Populations known
colonial times have gone extinct in many places in the Eastern United
States. Can we relocate them? No hope for this. They are too intimately
linked to food webs including ours. Cicadas feed on our trees and
food for wildlife. The trout we catch this spring will have tummies
cicadas. So will foxes, raccoons, pheasants, and blue jays. Through
cicadas have been important food sources for many human cultures in
country and around the world. Cicadas are high in protein and several
nutrients. Finally, you should not buy or reserve the beekeepers suit
through 2065 No, use it like a prom gown, buy it and return it every 17
years. Alternatively, you can go to Ocean City, Key West, or San
where there will be no periodical cicadas this summer. Good luck!
- I am really frightened of these things, what should I do?
I understand that the image of thousands of relatively large, active, noisy insects can be quite scary to many people. I found Alfred Hitchcock’s movie "The Birds" very frightening for quite some time. First, realize that cicadas do not bite, sting, or attack people. They may bump into you inadvertently as they go about finding mates, laying eggs, and avoiding predators. If you are somewhat anxious about these interesting animals, visit one of the many web sites that describe their biology and behavior. A good place to start includes the "Cicadas are coming" web site at www.newsdesk.umd.edu/scitech/cicadas.cfm or the Entomology web site at www.entm.umd.edu.
If you find that cicadas are just too much for you to handle, you can avoid this entire cicada business to a greater or lesser degree in the following ways. When the cicadas begin to emerge in the first half of May, you could avoid going outdoors during the daylight hours when they are most active. If their chorusing disturbs you, try wearing headphones and listening to music but not while you are driving of course. If you find the entire event is just too much handle, consider a trip where cicadas are not. New England states north of New York will not have Brood X cicadas, nor will Florida or most states west of the Mississippi. Much of Maryland’s eastern shore and coastal areas of Virginia and the Carolinas will also lack periodical cicadas this spring. But remember, I am only a bug doctor, not a psychiatrist. If these guys really frighten you, consider seeking professional help for your concerns.