Sunday, June 9, 2013

Veritable Invasion or Veritable Wonder? Lessons around Brood II 17-Year Cicadas

Since mid-May, as soil temperatures reached a sustainable 64 degrees, Brood II Magicicadas from Connecticut to North Carolina have emerged.  They have crawled up from the underground burrows they made 17 years ago as nymphs. Once above ground they climbed up tree trunks and transformed into winged adults. Within a week after resting and hardening their exoskeletons, males sing a high-pitched song to attract females.  They will mate,  females will deposit up to 600 eggs in tree and shrub twigs and branches, and they will then die. The tiny nymphs, once hatched, will climb to the edge of the branch they were laid in, drop down to the ground and burrow deep below it beginning their 16+year development underground, living and developing off of tree sap.

There are 11 other broods that follow this same cycle through different years and in different places. although seven broods are found only in Eastern North America. Brood I, for example, emerged in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee last year. To read more about the mystery of how this synchronized life cycle evolved please read this New York Times article "Here comes the Buzz" by Craig Gibbs (5/1/2013).


  • Cicadas are edible. HOWEVER you want to eat them when they first emerge from the ground and split out of their skin (when they're soft and white) . Exoskeletons are not digestable. According to The Wall Street Journal Q&A article (5/15/2013) by Justin Rocket Silverman, "You blanch them for about a minute in boiling water and they are ready to eat." You can find recipes online BUT... DON'T give them to pets - AND CHECK THAT YOU AREN'T ALLERGIC - some people have had allergic reactions to substances within the cicada (especially those allergic to shellfish).
  • Cicadas like power tools, drums, heavy vibrations - turn on those power tools and they SING!
  • To attract mates, males sing by vibrating their corrugated exoskeletons, or timbals, on each side of their thorax. They can do this 300-400 times per second and can be quite loud - some varieties can project sound more than a quarter of a mile. 
  • The cicada song has been clocked at 90 decibels (equivalent to some power motors) and can be heard miles away. Some Australian cicadas are so loud that researchers need ear protection!
  • Cicadas will emerge at night from tunnels they dig to the surface, sing, mate and females will then deposit up to 600 eggs tree and shrub twigs and branches, and then die.  Their tunnels help aerate the soil and their decomposing bodies return nitrogen to the soil.
  • Cicada songs are species specific.

For the nature lovers and budding scientists in your home, school or summer camp,  they couldn't have come at a better time.

With students itching for summer break with limited interest or attention span for reading-writing-and 'rithmatic,...

...For those bummed that they have to continue with summer school. ..

...For all your nature lovers and budding scientists...

HERE are some resources to observe and learn about these 'natural wonders' :


  • Cicada Central - a site designed to be a clearinghouse for scientific information about cicada's (periodical cicadas, New Zealand cicadas, searchable databases, taxonomic information, labs and links.
  • The New York Times post An Invasion of 17-Year-Olds, Loud, Lusty and Six-Legged by Sara Mislin Nir (6/7/2013) discusses reactions different people around New York who are inundated with these insects/pests.  This is an excellent article about the human reaction and can lead to excellent discussions or written work (students can write/create scripts, films, articles, science fiction pieces) around them.
  • Erin Ruberry for The Huffington Post (5/14/2013) has "Cicada Recipes: 10 Ways to Use Cicadas in your Next Soup, Sandwich, or Dessert" - for the brave (although it may be too late now - you may have to save these for 17 years).  Again, check that you aren't allergic to substances within the cicada. A link, for example has been found that those allergic to shellfish should NOT eat cicadas.
  • The New York Times Science section (6/3/2013) has an interactive map "A Century of Cicadas" showing where Brood II is now active. It also has links to related articles.
    Return of the 17-Year Cicadas
  • Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (New Haven, CT) has an exhibit "! on view May 1 through September 3, 2013. This exhibit contains specimens of cicada from 1843, the oldest at any museum.
Courtesy design by Golden Cosmos
  • SUPER RESOURCE FOR ALL AGES: The Wall Street Journal has an AWESOME (and short!) article by Daniel Akst (6/7/2013) "Lessons About Sound from the 17-Year Cicadas"  that notes how researchers from several institutions including the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport RI have been trying to understand how cicadas get such long sustained sound out of such small bodies. Why the navy? According to the article:
"Cicadas are worth emulating because they're incredibly efficient. Motivated by their mating instincts, some cicada varieties can project sound more than a quarter of a mile...a remarkable 300 to 400 times per second...That could be valuable to the Navy in underwater communications or search-and-rescue operations. A device attached to a life preserver...could announce its location by emitting loud, cicada-like noises powered by the tiniest batter, or even the sun..."


  • A seven-minute documentary on Cicadas 2013 - (above).
  • Wall Street Journal has an entertaining overview, "5 Things Cicadas Won't Say"
  • Clarinet with Cicada chorus introduces cicada background with film footage of them emerging, nesting on trees and dying.  David Rothenberg is a musician who studies music and animal sounds. In this video he identifies three species of cicada "singing"

So, have you seen Brood II 2013?

Eaten any of them?

Please leave your own stories and your reactions in the "Comments" and thank you for your visit.


  1. I am SO glad we will not be invaded where I currently live. These cursed creatures totally freak me out!

    Great article - fascinating facts - but I still have nightmares of the previous invasions that I endured and I would sooner eat dirt than eat bugs!

    (Can you tell I detest bugs?)

    Happy WW to you! :-)

  2. Had NO idea cicadas were edible. Still wrapping my brain around that. I love the song of cicadas-- in moderation. ;-) This was a great article, thank you so much for sharing it!

  3. No, I DIDN'T, WON'T be eating them. Haven't seen them, fortunately. Very informative, in a yucky sort of way...

  4. I had NO IDEA that cicadas were on a 17 year cycle! We have them on our property - we had a ton of them a few years ago, and they've been popping up again enforce this year, much to the delight of the Princess Nagger who likes to observe them and listen to them 'singing'. :)

    And I also had no idea they were edible - but I think I'll pass on that. ;)

    Annoying Colds Cause Foggy Brains, Punctuation is Necessary, and Craig Morgan is a Hero – Random Tuesday Thoughts Rebel

  5. Fascinating post. I guess it was 7 years ago when I first heard the incredible racket that group made. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  6. Very interesting, Meryl, but also a little bit scary! I a m not fond of large amounts of insects. Once we had cat fleas after being away on a holiday of three weeks. I hope you have a great week.
    Wil, ABCW Team

  7. I remember Cicadas emerging at my grandparents home in Oklahoma, when I was a teenager (more than 4 decades ago) didn't seem to matter which year we visited, they must have have all the broods nesting beneath their trees, ( as well as chiggers in the grass;) Thanks for sharing Happy WW

  8. I'm bummed they missed South Carolina. I LOVE Cicadas!

  9. I just can't wait for these little buggers to that sick?

  10. Very interesting post ! but what ugly critters !
    ABC Team

  11. Interesting but not exciting for me... I'm not a big fan of critters.

    If you have not done so yet, we would love to have you come share/link via our WWHop:
    Happy Wordless Wednesday!

  12. Usually the longer the gestation period, the smarter the animal. I find it odd that these bugs take seventeen years to develop then die quickly. What a waste.

  13. To the best of my knowledge, I haven't encountered these bugs. But I would NEVER eat them! I have such a fear of bugs!