April 18, 2013

This is an "animals nobody loves" story. After hanging around underground for 17 years, billions of flying bugs known as cicadas (sih-KAY-duhs) are going to arrive in the East Coast of the United states sometime in the next month.

"For entomophobes, this is the season of despair. For the entomophiles, this is the season of joy," says University of Maryland entomologist Michael Raupp. I bet you’ve already guessed that an entomopobe (EN-toe-moe-fobe) means a bug hater, and entomophile (EN-toe-moe-file) is a bug lover. Love them or hate them, we’re going to have to get used to them for about a month.

The 17-year cicadas are expected to arrive in the Carolinas in late April or early May, and will work their way up northward to Washington, Philadelphia and New York by early June. The amazing thing is that these larvae have been living underground since their parents laid their eggs 17 years ago. When the temperature of the ground reaches 64 degrees, the insects will wiggle out of their shells andbegin to dig "escape chimneys," tunneling out into the spring air where they take flight, searching for a mate.

The sound of millions of insects flying is stunningly loud. What I remember from their last appearance is that I heard a sound so loud and persistent that I thought there must be construction happening outside. Experts say the volume can reach 90 decibels - as loud as a rock concert. In some areas, the ground is covered so that you can’t walk without crunching cicadas, the sky seems to be filled with dark clouds, and the walls of some houses are covered, as if they are painted black. You have to shake the insects out of your clothes when you come into the house. It is a remarkable thing to experience.

If the 17-year cicadas come to your neighborhood, there is nothing to be afraid of. They do not sting or bite, and will not hurt you in any way. They will only be around for about a month while they find their mate and lay their eggs, which will then mature for 17 years underground. This is a truly amazing natural cycle. Try to set aside the "ick" factor and appreciate how lucky you are to observe something like this. If you are an 8-year-old third grader today, you will be all grown up - old enough to be a teacher instead of a student! - next time they emerge. Now that is an astounding thing to experience, isn’t it?


Photo: Mary Terriberry / Shutterstock 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

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