The time has come after 17 years living underground for the Periodical Cicada or “17 Year Locusts” to emerge and start its long cycle of life over again. There are over 90 different species of cicadas worldwide but there are only 7 species of the Periodical Cicadas – three 17 year and four 13 year varieties, all of which are native to the Eastern U.S.
Despite the name, cicadas are not really Locusts at all. Locusts are really grasshoppers that hatch out in large swarms. Cicadas belong to an order of insects called Homoptera or mainly – Leaf Hoppers. They may resemble a large hornet but they are harmless and do not sting. Each summer we see some of the Annual Cicadas hatch out and leave their exoskeletons hanging at base of a tree or another object. The Annual Cicadas are larger than the Periodical Cicadas and have green eyes and green veins along the wings. The smaller Periodical Cicada has red eyes and orange veins along the wings.
The Periodical Cicada is one of the longest living insects in the world. The female will use her egg laying ovipositor and cut a slit in the living twig of a hardwood tree and lay a few tiny eggs and move on to another laying up to 500 eggs or more. When the eggs hatch, the worms drop to ground and dig a hole at the base of the tree. They will live in a larval stage feeding off the sap from small roots for the next 17 or 13 years depending on the species and brood. A brood is a large swarm. There are 15 broods and Brood ll is now hatching in several parts of the Triad all the way up from the northern Piedmont through central Virginia, Maryland, and on up to Connecticut. Adults only live for about four weeks with males calling the females to mate and start all over. Males make the loud calling sound by vibrating tymbal membranes that are located between the thorax and abdomen. Its abdomen is mostly hollow and helps to amplify the sound. When hundreds of cicadas hatch in one area, the sound can be so loud that it’s hard to talk over it.
Take a good look and make a few pictures as the will not return again in this are until the spring of 2030.
by Rick Bolling, Zoo Curator of Reptiles and Invertebrates