The Buzz About Cicadas

This spring, news media across the country began reporting this was the year that 17-year cicadas would inundate the eastern United States.

B15 1 yr cicada
Published June 21, 2013 5:00 AM
3 min read


B15 1 yr cicadaThis spring, news media across the country began reporting this was the year that 17-year cicadas would inundate the eastern United States.


By Bill Lawyer  


B15 1 yr cicadaThis spring, news media across the country began reporting this was the year that 17-year cicadas would inundate the eastern United States. 


Mostly based on interviews with entomologists or insect exterminators, these articles provided generally useful information about what people could expect and what, if anything, they should do about it. 


They noted, for example, that for 16 years, the “common” cicadas that we see and hear in the summer are species that have one- or three-year life cycles.  


And from my own experiences of living in Rye since 1969, I can say with some assurance that these species of cicadas don’t emerge from the ground until after Independence Day. That’s why a common name for them is “dog day” cicadas. 


I’m somewhat unusual in that I am fascinated by most kinds of insects and spiders. And, I’m always willing to co-exist with them as much as possible, with a live-and-let-live attitude. As long as they’re not hurting me, I say don’t mess with Mother Nature’s little creatures. 


Some people may not be of that view, and waste no time before calling the exterminator or arborist.


B15 17 cicadaTrue, the one-year cicadas make a fair amount of buzzing noise for about six weeks, and they have an annoying habit of flying around, perching on all sorts of surfaces from trees to deck furniture — those are the males trying to attract the females. Once they’ve mated, the females lay eggs and then die, as do the males. 


Cleaning up the discarded nymph-stage shells and dead adults requires a certain amount of effort, but if you wait a few days, the few cicadas that aren’t eaten by birds or wasps decompose fairly quickly. 


Most of the media reports predicted that the emergence of the long-term species of cicadas after 17 years of feeding from the roots of trees and shrubs would occur in late April or early May. Unlike the shorter span cicadas, the insects in this species emerge in huge quantities over a much shorter time span. People were bracing for the worst. 


When that time arrived, however, few areas reported any signs of the cicadas. Some scientists ventured a guess that the delay came about because winter and spring were colder than usual. 


As May moved along, reports of infestation began coming in, mostly running from south to north. Similar to the way hurricanes and tropical storms moved up the coast. But in the case of the 17-year cicadas, these were very local broods that were molting, metamorphosing, and emerging, not like the migratory swarms of locusts that have plagued various parts of the world since Biblical times. 


By the end of May, however, it was clear that not all areas of the metropolitan region were sharing in the 17-year cicada excitement and buzz.  Only a few areas of Staten Island and Rockland County were hard hit.


Gerry Giordano, the horticultural specialist for the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service in Westchester, stated categorically: “As of June 10 we’ve not received a single report of these insects throughout the county.” 


On his Save the Sound blog, Tom Anderson recounts that back in 1996, when he was a reporter for The Journal News, the only area of the County with significant numbers of the 17-year species was Cortlandt. 


Interestingly enough, Anderson found regional survey records showing that only the Cortlandt area was infested by the same species, as far back as 1894. 


I guess we can conclude that the 17-year cicadas are creatures of habit, and that in 2030 some reporters will find that Cortlandt will once again be the “go-to” place to see and hear these amazing creatures. But not right in our backyards. 



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