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Wednesday
May222013

Cicada obsession: second-day sightings in New Jersey  

A cicada nymph emerges from its shell as if riding on its own back.Cicadas showed up in full force today, and I got my wish of seeing a nymph still clad in its armor -- the previously mentioned exoskeleton -- climbing slowly up a tree. On the same tree, another white nymph emerged poetically from a tiny split in its shell (left). Today, I witnessed every stage of cicada development, short of catching one crawling out of the ground (and, of course, all those years spent in the ground!).

And today there were MANY more cicadas. Exuviae -- their empty shells -- littered the ground and hung, vacated, from trees and the tall green blades that I hope will bring the year's gladious.

Cicadas are white during early molting.

All the littered cicada shells made me think of water-dwelling crawfish and shrimp, to which cicadas are actually related, being arthropods. I've heard that some people eat cicadas and that they taste like asparagus or shrimp. Eating bugs is one culinary adventure for which I'm not yet ready, so I'll just wonder!

It finally occurred to me that cicada wings look like leaded glass, and not really lace. So far, I'm still excited about the cicadas.  I went outside to listen earlier this evening, but I didn't hear any deafening chorus of cicada love calls. Not a peep, in fact. Maybe the ones here are still to young to be frisky.

Deformed cicadas

A cicada with deformed wings.

Alarmingly, I did notice that many of today's cicadas were dead. Like the one yesterday, many had been unable to fully emerge from their shell. Several others were deformed, with wings too small, round and soft to possibly carry their weight in flight. One had a single wing.

Having read previously that lawn and garden chemicals running into waterways are among suspected causes of deformities in fish and other aquatic creatures, I wondered about my own lawn. While I don't use pesticides or chemical fertilizers, I haven't lived here 17 years. I don't know what was used by previous owners. I do know that the large tree where many of the cicadas were found was previously treated for carpenter ants.

A widely cited online article about cicadas, attributed to a 2007 edition of the Chicago Tribune, suggests that chemicals might not be fully to blame. According to the article, cicadas need to molt (develop the new shell of mature adults) without being disturbed. That can't happen in crowded conditions with few trees and lots of jostling cicadas, according to the article (which may or may not be from the Tribune). For me, that doesn't explain the cicadas on my driveway and elsewhere that for whatever reason could not fully come out of their nymph shell, and apparently died trying.

Let's see what the local experts have to say. In the meantime, a 2004 article about Brood X cicadas humorously summed up the periodical cicada's lifespan: "After 17 years of sucking root fluids in the dark, they emerge into a bright springtime only to live for three or four weeks. During this achingly brief period, they molt, make music, mate and drop dead, leaving the world littered with their ghostly exoskeletons."

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
May212013

They're here: A first cicada sighting in Fanwood 

A cicada in Fanwood

Cicada's impressive wings

Periodical cicadas have finally emerged around my home. So far, there is evidence of three of them.

The cicada shown seems fully mature. On a nearby wall, another cicada seemed to be emerging from its thick brown exoskeleton (below). There were also two exoskeletons on the ground -- split like abandoned armor --  near where this one was sighted. The empty exoskeletons with legs, and in the fully formed shape of an insect body, look like a different sort of bug altogether. I wish I had seen one of those moving around.

Today was the first cicada sighting, and I'm happy -- today, at least -- to see these large bugs that are beautiful and a little ugly at the same time, with their bulging, round rust-colored eyes against a thick black head. What is beautiful is the cicada's color combination and lace-like, veined transparent wings that are sufficiently large to carry such a chubby bug in flight.  

The mature cicada and the one that seemed to be emerging from its exoskeleton (it hasn't moved for four hours, so I'm wondering if it is alive) allowed me to get surprisingly close for photographs. Here is a good place to learn more about cicadas with information from Rutgers.

 

A dead cicada that failed to emerge from its exoskeleton.

 

  Cicada exoskeletons are like body armor left behind. 

 

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