Bug Invasion Looms

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STATE — One of nature’s weirdest — and loudest — mating rituals is about to strike the Garden State along with much of the Northeastern region.

When the soil eight inches below the surfaces reaches 64 degrees, sometime between now and early June, billions of extremely noisy insects that have been underground feeding off of tree roots for 17 years will suddenly appear.

Magicicada septendecim, sometimes called the Pharaoh cicada, appear in fantastic, large swarms every 17 years for a “frenzy of sex and death” that will last up to six weeks.

The stout-bodied insects have large membranous wings and males have drum-like organs for producing a high-pitched drone, which has been compared to a buzz saw sound.

Cicada Mania  describes the orange-eyed insects, which look like gigantic flies, as relatives of leaf-hopping insects, jumping plant lice and spittle bugs.

Cicadas are flying, plant-sucking insects of the Order Hemiptera; their closest relatives are leafhoppers, treehoppers, and fulgoroids.

In general, adult cicadas are large (most are one or two inches), with prominent wide-set eyes, short antennae, and clear wings held roof-like over the abdomen, though they are surprisingly diverse in their appearance and habits.

After mating, females lay eggs in grass, bark or twigs; the eggs hatch later in the season and the new nymphs burrow underground. As juveniles and adults, cicadas use piercing and sucking mouthparts to feed on the xylem fluid of plants.

Then, after 17 years, they emerge as adults to procreate and die.

Cicadas are not poisonous or known to transmit disease and they possess no defensive mechanisms, so they cannot sting or bite.

An article posted by the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut says, “The ovipositor is used only for laying eggs and the mouthparts are used only for feeding on twigs; thus, periodical cicadas can hurt you only if they mistake you for a tree branch!”

When approached, a cicada will simply fly away. If handled, both males and females struggle to fly, and males make a loud defensive buzzing sound that may startle but is otherwise harmless.


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