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August 11, 2005

17-Year Cicada Flashback – Part Two

Wile E. Delaplaine

That we are in the dog days of August, being treated daily to a cacophony of cicada mating calls justifies recalling the 17-year cicada emergence of last year.

Even though the big green bugs we are now hearing are merely distant cousins to the smaller, louder and more brightly colored 17-year variety, and even though those of you in Frederick may have missed their spectacular feat, perhaps my musings now may be just enough to inspire you, in May/June of 2021, to hop in your hydrogen powered vehicle and find a more successful breading area.

With any luck, a repeat performance will be given once again, as in 2004, in most of Montgomery and Howard counties.

So here are a few more cicada and cicada related photographs, as well as a few observations and references.

Magicadae in Highland, Maryland

The 17-year cicadae (or cicadas) are known technically as Magicicada. The group that emerged last year (late spring 2004) is part of a larger population known as Brood X. Brood X itself is actually made up of three distinctly different 17-year cicada varieties, Magicicada septendecim, Magicicada cassini, and Magicicada septendecula. They are not destructive to crops, as they are not above ground to eat…

Only the male of the species is endowed with tymbals (sound organs), thus it is only he that makes the incredibly loud calls we hear. Each of the three varieties has very distinct calls. Two of these were deafening in my Highland yard. The din of septendecim sounded very much as if teems of flying saucers were landing in the woods, and the calls of cassini sounded like an army of menacing infants armed with deafening rattles who were staked out invisibly in the trees. This went on for weeks, mostly during the day.

Cicada Debris (Falls Church, Virginia)

After the emergence of the millions and millions from Brood X, cicada shells were everywhere. I am still finding them today. After the mating, for the males, it’s time to expire and for the females, on to the egg laying, then expiration. In certain areas, like at bases of older trees, the debris from the shells and carcasses were inches thick, and the stench was impressive.

Egg laying female, her ovipositor jammed into the branch. The scars from this process visible behind (Highland).

In an impressive feat, females lay their eggs in solid tree branches, with the aid of this incredibly sturdy “ovipositor.”

Cicada Tree Damage (Columbia, MD)

While it’s true that the Magicicadae are not guilty of crop damage, they are not all together harmless to all plant life. Small trees are especially vulnerable to the damage. Our walnut trees produced no fruit last year, and several rather scrawny wild cherry trees did not survive the winter. The egg laying itself merely scars the tree branches, but if a huge number of females have laid eggs on the same branch, the branch tip is likely to die. The branches that survive are left with some serious scarring, and a year later, many of these, having survived the egg-laying onslaught, are now snapping in the wind, littering the yard after even the smallest storm.

P-29 Magicicadae or Snack? (Rockville, MD)

Although they may not appear to be haute cuisine, the Brood X cicadae are, in fact, quite edible. It is preferable to grab them right out of the shell before they’ve hardened, which means gathering them late at night during the two weeks during emergence. Once collected, my two techniques were dry roasting on low heat and dry roasting following by dipping in expensive Belgian dark chocolate. I would have to say that dry roasted they taste like rather oily asparagus, but dipped in delicious Belgian chocolate, they tasted remarkably like delicious Belgian dark chocolate.

That being said, after a couple of weeks in the freezer, the chocolate cicadae began to taste more and more unpleasant. (Virtually every other species in the animal kingdom was eating them, so should I not join them and see what all the fuss is about?)

A couple of links of interest:

Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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