Billions of Brood X Cicadas Are About to Get Loud

Billions of Brood X Cicadas Are About to Get Loud Advertisement By: John CooleyChris Simon  | Mar 15, 2021 A big event in the insect world is approaching. Starting sometime in April or May, depending on latitude, one of the largest broods of 17-year cicadas will emerge from underground in a dozen states, from New York […]

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Billions of Brood X Cicadas Are About to Get Loud

By: John CooleyChris Simon
 | 

A big evt in the insect world is approaching. Starting sometime in April or May, depding on latitude, one of the largest broods of 17-year cicadas will emerge from underground in a doz states, from New York west to Illinois and south into northern Georgia. This group is known as Brood X, as in the Roman numeral for 10.

For about four weeks, wooded and suburban areas will ring with cicadas’ whistling and buzzing mating calls. After mating, each female will lay hundreds of eggs in pcil-sized tree branches.

Th the adult cicadas will die. Once the eggs hatch, new cicada nymphs fall from the trees and burrow back underground, starting the cycle again.

There are perhaps 3,000 to 4,000 species of cicadas around the world, but the 13- and 17-year periodical cicadas of the eastern U.S. appear to be unique in combining long juvile developmt times with synchronized, mass adult emergces.

These evts raise many for tomolosts and the public alike. What do cicadas do underground for 13 or 17 years? What do they eat? Why are their life cycles so long? Why are they synchronized? And is climate change affecting this wonder of the insect world?

We study periodical cicadas to under about biodiversity, biogeography, behavior and ecology — the evolution, natural history and geographic distribution of life. We’ve learned many surprising things about these insects: For example, they can travel through time by channg their life cycles in four-year incremts. no accidt that the scitific name for periodical 13- and 17-year cicadas is Macicada, shorted from “mac cicada.”

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As species, periodical cicadas are older than the forests that they inhabit. Molecular analysis has shown that about 4 million years ago, the ancestor of the currt Macicada species split into two lineages. Some 1.5 million years later, one of those lineages split again. The resulting three lineages are the basis of the modern periodical cicada species groups, Decim, Cassini and Decula.

Early American colonists first countered periodical cicadas in Massachusetts. The sudd appearance of so many insects reminded them of biblical plagues of locusts, which are a type of grasshopper. That’s how the name “locust” became incorrectly associated with cicadas in North America.

During the 19th ctury, notable tomolosts such as Benjamin Walsh, C.V. Riley and Charles Marlatt worked out the astonishing biology of periodical cicadas. They established that unlike locusts or other grasshoppers, cicadas don’t chew leaves, decimate crops or fly in ss.

Instead, these insects spd most of their s out of sight, growing underground and feeding on plant roots as they pass through five juvile stages. Their synchronized emergces are predictable, occurring on a clockwork schedule of 17 years in the North and 13 years in the South and Mississippi Valley. There are multiple, reonal year classes, known as broods.

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The key feature of Macicada biology is that these insects emerge in huge numbers. This increases their chances of accomplishing their key mission aboveground: finding mates.

Dse emergces also provide what scitists call a predator-satiation defse. Any predator that feeds on cicadas, whether a fox, squirrel, bat or bird, will eat its fill long before it consumes all of the insects in the area, leaving many survivors behind.

While periodical cicadas largely come out on schedule every 17 or 13 years, oft a small group emerges four years early or late. Early emerng cicadas may be faster-growing individuals who had access to abundant food, and the laggards may be individuals that subsisted with less.

If growing conditions change over time, having the ability to make this kind of life cycle switch and come out either four years early in favorable times or four years late in more difficult times becomes important. If a sudd or cold phase causes a large number of cicadas to make a one-time mistake and come out off-schedule by four years, the insects can emerge in sufficit numbers to satiate predators and shift to a new schedule.

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As glaciers retreated from what is now the U.S. some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, periodical cicadas filled eastern forests. Temporary life cycle switching has formed a complex mosaic of broods.

Today there are 12 broods of 17-year periodical cicadas in northeastern deciduous forests, where trees drop leaves in winter. These groups are numbered sequtially and fit together like a ant jigsaw puzzle. In the Southeast and the Mississippi Valley there are three broods of 13-year cicadas.

Because periodical cicadas are ssitive to climate, the patterns of their broods and species reflect climatic shifts. For example, getic and other data from our work indicate that the 13-year species Macicada neotredecim, which is found in the upper Mississippi Valley, formed shortly after the last glaciation. As the vironmt ed, 17-year cicadas in the area emerged successively, geration after geration, after 13 years underground until they were permanently shifted to a 13-year cycle.

But not clear whether cicadas can continue to evolve as quickly as humans alter their vironmt. Although periodical cicadas prefer forest edges and thrive in suburban areas, they cannot survive deforestation or reproduce in areas without trees.

Indeed, some broods have already become extinct. In the late 19th ctury, one brood (XXI) disappeared from north Florida and Geora. Another (XI) has be extinct in northeast Connecticut since around 1954, and a third (VII) in upstate New York has shrunk from eight counties to one since mapping first began in the mid-1800s.

Climate change could also have far-reaching effects. As the U.S. climate s, longer growing seasons may provide a larger food supply. This may evtually change more 17-year cicadas into 13-year cicadas, just as past ing altered Magicicada neotredecim. Large-scale early emergces occurred in 2017 in Cincinnati and the Baltimore-Washington metro area, and in 1969, 2003 and 2020 in the Chicago metro area — pottial harbingers of this kind of change.

Researchers need detailed high-quality information to track cicada distributions over time.

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Citiz scitists play a key role in this effort because periodical cicada populations are so large and their adult emergces only last a few weeks.

Volunteers who want to help documt Brood X’s emergce this spring can download the Cicada Safari mobile phone app, provide snapshots and follow our research in real time online at www.cicadas.uconn.edu. Don’t miss out — the next opportunity won’t come until Broods XIII and XIX emerge in 2024.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licse. You can find the original article here.

John Cooley is assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut. He has received funding from the National Scice Foundation and National Geographic. Chris Simon is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut. She receives funding from the National Scice Foundation.

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Billions of Brood X Cicadas Are About to Get Loud


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Billions of Brood X Cicadas Are About to Get Loud AdvertiseMent By: John CooleyChris Simon  | Mar 15, 2021 A big event in the insect world is approaching. Starting sometime in April or May, depending on latitude, one of the largest broods of 17-year cicadas will emerge from underground in a dozen states, from New York […]

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