17 Year Cicadas are here!
It looks like 2016 is the year of the locust in Northeast Ohio! Well, actually, it’s the year of the 17 year cicadas. I remember them from when I was a kid, and back then we called them the 17 year locusts. I do remember them being everywhere, with their shells literally covering the ground like a carpet in places.
I’ve lived out of state until recently, but it looks like I returned to Ohio at the right time, because we have been invaded by Cicadas.
The first thing I noticed was small finger-sized holes all over the ground. I had heard we were supposed to be getting the cicadas this year, so I did some Googling to confirm it.
The Life of the 17 Year Cicadas
I learned that the Cicadas start out life as eggs laid on the limbs of a tree. When the eggs hatch, the white cicada young will feast on the fluids from the tree. This often causes some damage to the tree. Perhaps it is because of this damage that people often refer to then as locusts, even though they are actually in the cricket family.
When they have matured sufficiently, the cicadas drop to the ground. Then, they burrow into the ground to find some roots to feast on. They will stay underground for 17 years tunneling and feeding off of roots.
After 17 years they will emerge when the right conditions are met. This is usually when the soil temperatures reach 64 degrees Fahrenheit at a depth of 8 inches.
The holes shown in the picture are the exit holes they have dug to begin their adult life above ground. After they emerge, they shed their exoskeleton. These are the shells that litter the ground below trees. I’ve also seen a large number of the shells still attached to tree leaves.
Once they shed their exoskeleton, they begin their brief two week life as an adult, looking for a mate to repeat the cycle. The loud noise is made by the males trying to attract a mate. An individual cicada can reach 110 decibels if heard near your ear. I can say that at times, the sound in my neighborhood is almost at the painful level. There is strength in numbers, and cicada populations can reach 1.5 million per square acre!
Why 17 Years?
There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to why they have the 17 year cycle. One theory is that because they have no defensive mechanisms that they appear en masse so they can survive attacks by predators. The 17 year cycle is presumed to prevent the predator population to swell because of the extra food they provide in the year they emerge. After 17 years without the extra cicada to feast on, the predator population will have presumably returned to normal size.
I can say, that even though they don’t bite, they get annoying after a week or two. They have a bad habit of confusing you for trees and landing on you. When you brush them off, they make a loud screeching sound. The first time one landed on the back of my neck and I brushed it off, the shrieking scared me half to death.
The sound of the cicadas seem to be on the decline, so I suspect the population is dropping now. They are expected to be gone by the first week in July.
Here are some sites that have everything you ever wanted to know about cicadas, and more.