Dawn of the Chirpy Bugs: A collection of cicada-related news

Cicada on leaf

Image: Cicada, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from tinali778's photostream

So here is another line to kill space

This summer, folks on the East Coast of the US will see (and hear) an invasion of billions of cicadas in what is probably the most obvious part of the insects' 17-year life cycle. The cicadas will crawl out of the dirt, make a lot of noise, and seek out other cicadas in order to breed and create a new generation of larvae that will, 17 years from now, emerge to do the same thing all over again.

It's big news for those of us who think things like insects, evolution, and cyclical processes of nature are really, really cool.

Today, I ran across a number of Cicadasplosion-related stories and wanted to share them with you:
• First up, Carl Zimmer has a piece in the New York Times about cicadas and the evolution of seemingly strange life cycles. It includes a neat, interactive graphic showing a century of cicada blooms around the United States.
The University of Maryland has a helpful cicada cookbook, including tips on the best times and ways to harvest the bugs. You want them young, and succulent, apparently.
• Cicadas will not hurt you, but they might land on you and there's a possibility that they may be sexually attracted to the sound of your weed-wacker.
• In 1894, The New York Times suggested pressing cicadas into a biscuit for dog food.
• If you're not a cicada fan and don't want to eat them yourself, rest assured, some of them will be eaten alive by a horrific-sounding fungus.
Radiolab's cicada tracker is still up and running, and you can participate.
• A couple of years ago, when a different group of cicadas (on a 13-year-cycle) was hatching in North Carolina, Charles Choi spoke with chronobiologist and blogger Bora Zivkovic about why we don't yet understand cyclical systems like this.

Image: Cicada on leaf, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from frotzed's photostream


      1. Yes — the actually tend to be smaller and quieter. But they make up for it in volume!

      2.  I’ve lived in Arizona where they’re yearly, and Maryland where they come in these insane waves.  Same difference, except, like you said, numbers.  The wave ones are sort of like fans of [insert teen pop idol] when their fan worship victim comes to town — it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, they are legion. 

        Instead of preteen girls, though, it’s dead bugs.  Same amount of shrieking though.  Yearly cicadas are more like hipsters — always annoying, never seem to go away, but there’s not a ton of them.

  1. Where I am in Tennessee we get the standard annual variety as well as a species that comes out every thirteen years. While the annuals are green with black eyes the thirteen-year variety is black with red eyes (also see the picture above), which I personally find pretty adorable. They’re also, oddly enough, smaller, in spite of having spent thirteen years underground.

    I don’t know if they’re louder, but imagine the annual cicadas covering every tree and bush, climbing up walls and fences, and forming great clouds that dive at you en masse when you try to mow. Imagine the noise the yearly cicadas make magnified by a pretty significant amount and the cycles and volume level growing as the day warms up. And you get all this during the hottest part of the year.

    I probably make it sound awful, but I really think there’s something wonderful about it. I just wish I had my 2011 13 Year Cicada Reunion tour t-shirt handy so I could share a picture of it.

    1. I probably make it sound awful, but I really think there’s something wonderful about it. I just wish I had my 2011 13 Year Cicada Reunion tour t-shirt handy so I could share a picture of it.

      I love the sound of cicadas… it’s the sound of summer.

      (My wife, who grew up in a relatively bug-free part of Montana, however, does not agree.)

      1. Northerners who have never lived in the South or West, or visited for more than a day trip, don’t understand how the all-night buzzing cacophony of cicadas and every other goddamn insect makes us feel “at home.”  It’s very relaxing.  It’s like New Yorkers who can’t sleep in the country cottage because there’s no honking, sirens or garbage trucks.

        1. The last time that I visited Massachusetts, I would lie in bed in the morning with a pillow over my head praying for blue jays to become extinct.

          1. I live in NC, and I hate that as well.

            In the morning things need to be quiet, but I like hearing the tree frogs and cicadas at night.

          2. I agree – birds are different.  I fucking hate em at 5am.  The all-night drone of the insects is a totally different thing.  I don’t know why, but I, and I think a lot of other people, find a bug drone soothing.  Not the 5am bird squawk.  Fucking birds!!!!

          3.  In Toronto (home of the Blue Jays baseball team), something like 95-98% of the blue jays were wiped out when West Nile arrived. I used to hear them all the time, now I hear one maybe once a year. They still seem to all die every summer when the mosquitoes come out.

          4. I know that that’s theoretically sad, but I’m having a hard time mustering sympathy for a species that seems to have evolved to blow an air horn in my ear while I’m trying to sleep.

  2. In 1894, The New York Times suggested pressing cicadas into a biscuit for dog food. 

    Judging by the behavior of my dogs, cicadas are the tastiest, most Epicurean of all insects, so this probably isn’t a bad idea.

    I had a dog — sadly departed last year — who went nuts for them. When she’d eat them live they functioned as a mouth harp, flapping wings sticking out the side of her mouth,  “whahh-whahh-whahhing” as she chewed. Very comical (in a somewhat creepy way).

    1. First, sincere condolences for the loss of your dog. I know all to well how hard that is.

      Now, on a lighter note, according to an article I still have from 2011, cicadas are eaten by people around the world. It also includes a recipe that supposedly works best with fresh cicadas whose shells haven’t had a chance to harden:

      20 cicadas
      1 egg, beaten
      1 cup flour
      4 tablespoons olive oil

      Dip cicadas in egg mixture, coat with flour, and saute in a frying pan until golden brown. Serve immediately.

      And, hey, ain’t everything good fried?

    2. I had a dog again sadly departed who loved them too. A flying snack delivered by nature!

  3. Is there any particular reason that the media coverage seems to be only talking about the East Coast varieties?  We have 13 and 17 year here in and around Chicago (last one was 2007, if I remember), and I’ve been through two of these here (and was actually in New Jersey for the last 17 year), and I can’t say they’re that much different.  However, I don’t remember ZOMGCICADADADAPOCALYPSE! for any of the ones here.  Sure, it’s a local story, and the cicada recipes come out, but is it just that East Coast media bias + 24 hour news cycle = big deal now?

    1.  Areas that are more heavily developed (read: paved over) tend to get fewer cicadas coming up from the ground. I’ve been through a few cycles in smaller towns with lots of greenspace, and holy hell are there a lot of these winged speakerphones! At Indiana University, I watched people sprint from their cars into the library, screaming and flapping their arms as the cicadas whirled around them. Good times!

      1. I wonder if paved areas would get fewer zombies coming up from the ground as well?

  4. Here in NV we have Mormon crickets. Some years they get so bad they use snowplows to scrape the dead bugs off the road.

      1. No they were from a different Mormon fairy tale: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_the_gulls

  5. I live just outside of DC. I was surprised to hear we’d be getting more cicadas this year, as we had a big, loud invasion in 2004.  I forgot there are different broods; the one we’re about to see is Brood II and it might also explain why I remember cicadas in 1979, when I lived in NY.  The 2004 invasion was Brood X, which I’m guessing is the same one I remember from 1987 in Texas.

    Last summer I worked in Rockville, northwest and a bit further out from DC and there were plenty of cicadas, loud enough although not like I remember from 2004.  I wonder if that was Brood I (“Blue Ridge Brood”) that had wandered east, or just some annual variety (I don’t remember them from previous summers in Rockville though).  It does seem there is a brood almost every year, somewhere in the U.S., with a bit of geographic overlap.

      1. Interesting, it doesn’t put Brood X anywhere near Texas.  Brood IV would be about right (for where I lived) but it was 6 years earlier (though I think I would have remembered that one).

        The cicadas I remember from 1987 may not have been the cyclical cicadas…  I don’t remember big swarms etc.  The main reason I remember them at all was because another kid was dousing them with gasoline and setting them alight.

  6. I remember what is was like being a kid in Maryland 34 years ago… They kind of fascinated and freaked me out back then… and they still do today.  I made a free iOS/Android game with them and I learned that after you worked on a photo of a creepy bug at 400% in Photoshop for an hour or so it begins to lose all meaning….

    Enjoy the freebie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugrQJ-yVScY

  7. I became aware of the different broods during the last hatching a few years ago. I have a question about that: if the three broods never interact, do they eventually become different species? Of course, one generation each 17 years makes for a slow progression, and I don’t know whether the broods ever jump their 17-year tracks. I’d be interested to know whether anyone is doing DNA comparisons…

    1. On the other hand, what happens when those 17-year cycles hit their least common denominator(?)/least common multiple(?) and they all emerge at once?

  8. Every now and again on BoingBoing the difference between US and British words/phrases/terminology comes to the fore and as well as having (as a Brit) no experience of cicadas, I have no idea what a ‘weed-whacker’ is.
    But if you tell me that a hideous bug may be sexually attracted by my overuse of my weed-whacker then I will not visit the states without my metal reinforced underpants.

    1.  It’s a grass pruning devices that uses a spinning plastic string to trim weeds in places a lawnmower can’t/shouldn’t go. Weed-whackers make a variety of noises that vary from “RRRrrrr RRRR rrrrr” to “HeyBay-BEE Hey KissKiss”

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