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article imageThey're back - Virginia farmers brace for cicada invasion

By Karen Graham     May 26, 2020 in Environment
After spending 17 years underground, billions of cicadas will be emerging in parts of the United States. Periodical cicadas are expected to come out in early summer across southwest Virginia, parts of North Carolina, and in West Virginia.
Like the undead emerging from their graves, they scuttle across the forest floor, all in the same direction - like an army of zombies - making for the trees where they scuttle up onto the branches. There, they lose their sickly white exoskeletons and take on the red-eyed, coal-black countenance so familiar to their species and fly off by the billions.
They are the "periodic cicadas," some of the longest-lived insects in the world. The so-called "nymphs" spend almost their entire lives underground feeding on tree roots. Depending on the species, this can be either 13 or 17 years. The species make up 15 separate "broods," with Brood IX (nine) emerging this year as part of their 17-year cycle, according to The BBC.
Cicadas are flying, plant-sucking members of the taxonomic order Hemiptera, and the genus Magicicada. There are seven species, four with 13-year life cycles and three with 17-year life cycles. Other close relatives of cicadas include leafhoppers, treehoppers, and fulgoroids, or planthoppers.
Periodical (or cyclical) cicada nymphs often emerge into adulthood in vast swarms  during warm April...
Periodical (or cyclical) cicada nymphs often emerge into adulthood in vast swarms, during warm April or May evenings, after an extended, multi-stage juvenile life underground, lasting 13 or 17 years.
It is particularly fascinating that these periodic cicada swarms only occur in Eastern North America, and what makes them unique is their developmental synchronization, causing them to appear in great swarms every 13 to 17 years. This unusual behavior is not seen outside North America.
Debbe Noonkester, a Virginia farmer, talked with "As It Happens" host Carol Off. She is bracing for the emergence of the noisy insects. "When I see one on the tree, I know it doesn't help a whole lot. I just pick them off and step on them, and say, 'Take that, critter!," Noonkester said.
Cicadas swarming in Illinois.
Cicadas swarming in Illinois.
Katerina Clairborne
"Because I know how much damage they're going to do when they get out in force, but there's not a whole lot we can do." As many as 1.5 million cicadas may emerge per acre, according to a press release from Virginia Tech, creating massive, buzzing swarms, reports CBC Canada.
"It's like a loud, loud humming noise, like millions of grasshoppers all at once," Noonkester said. "Then they've got this weird shriek every once in a while ... and it's a just really, really strange sound."
The noise Noonkester is talking about is the mating call of the males who are attempting to attract females. However, for tree growers, and orchard and vineyard managers, the sound signals potential danger to their juvenile trees, vines, and saplings.
Magicicada egg slits (circled in red).
Magicicada egg slits (circled in red).
Lorax/Wikimedia Commons
The screeching and singing of the males start with the sun in the morning and carries on until late at night, becoming a deafening roar, akin to a chorus of chain saws. For the next four to six weeks of their lives, the cicadas will think of nothing else but procreation, mating, and laying eggs, much like salmon during the annual salmon runs. And like the salmon, the cicadas don't even stop to eat.
Eric Day, Virginia Cooperative Extension entomologist in Virginia Tech’s Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences agrees that “communities and farms with large numbers of cicadas emerging at once may have a substantial noise issue, but hopefully, any annoyance at the disturbance is tempered by just how infrequent — and amazing — this event is.”
More about periodic cicadas, 17yearcycle, cocust, Brood IX, southern US
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