Hancock, Brooke Counties Likely To Be Bugged by Cicadas Again This Summer
WASHINGTON, Pa. — Spring sprung just a few days ago, and even though that should put a spring in everyone’s step, keep the following in mind: the warmer, sunnier days will be accompanied by the wailing of cicadas.
Probably sometime in May or June, though their exact arrival can be hard to predict, Brood VIII cicadas will arise out of the ground after maturing for 17 years, ready to procreate and die. Their progeny will then burst out of the earth in 2036 and start the cycle anew.
Their loud mating song can be annoying. Many people consider cicadas freaky and repellent. But they’re not going to hurt you.
“They don’t really do much, and they’re not helpful,” according to Bob Davidson, the collection manager for invertebrate zoology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. “But they don’t carry disease and they’re not going to destroy crops.”
Brood VIII cicadas are native to Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Most maps show Hancock, Brooke and northern Ohio counties in the bugs’ expected path.
If you’re thinking that we just experienced a 17-year cicada incursion, we did, but it was an entirely different species of cicada — in 2016, Brood V cicadas made their once-every-17-years appearance. Brood V cicadas are indigenous to a much smaller region, turning up in a slice of Pennsylvania’s southwest corner, central and northern West Virginia and central and eastern Ohio.
In fact, Pennsylvania is something of a cicada hotbed, with several of 12 broods in evidence within the commonwealth.
“You don’t have to go very far to see them in that part of the world,” said John Cooley, a faculty member with the ecology and evolutionary biology department at the Hartford campus of the University of Connecticut.
The exact point the cicadas will creep out of the earth is “a crapshoot,” Davidson explained. If we have a warm spring, the date at which they appear could be as soon as late April. As the climate changes, that could also alter their arrival and departure. The soil temperature must reach 64 degrees before cicadas emerge. They will most readily be found in dense, hardwood forests, but also in suburban settings where the topsoil has not recently been removed and cicadas have had the opportunity to undertake their long incubation.
The most visible manifestation of the cicadas is their singing. It’s all about attracting a mate. While it was commonly believed that only male cicadas engage in a mating call, Cooley said researchers now believe that male and female cicadas engage in a “duet” before they mate. A female cicada can lay hundreds of eggs in twigs, and this can be harmful to young trees. It is recommended that garden fabric be used to protect them.
Early settlers to the United States believed that cicadas were locusts, and that’s a case of mistaken identity that often persists to this day. A difference, however, is that locusts can wreak havoc on agriculture, while cicadas cause no such destruction.
Once they mate, the cicadas die. Their life above ground — their days in the sun, as it were — typically lasts around five to six weeks, with their end sometimes being brought about when they are eaten by small mammals like groundhogs, or birds. But we probably shouldn’t shed too many tears for cicadas — at 17 years, they are among the longest-lived of insects. In contrast, a typical housefly lives about one month, and a male mosquito only lasts 10 days.
“They have a long life,” Davidson said. “To be alive for 17 years is quite extraordinary.”