Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021 - 10

C R E AT U R E F E AT U R E

'A UFO DOWN THERE IN THE WOODS?'

They're Ba-a-ck
Get out the ear plugs-the 17-year periodical cicadas are getting their buzz on.
It has not been confirmed how cicadas " know " to emerge every 17 years.

By NANCY HENDERSON

T

From around mid-April to late May, Brood X, a.k.a.
" The Great Eastern Brood " of periodical cicadas, will
emerge from the warming soil to settle in oaks, hickories
and other deciduous trees in the mountainous areas from
Tennessee to West Virginia. With their red and black bodies, orange wings and devil-red eyes-characteristics that
distinguish them from the larger, green-bodied ones that
come out every summer and fall-the visual effect is unmistakable, and a bit jarring.
But it's the rattling buzz or collective hiss that most
observers notice first.
" People have some amazing descriptions of them, " says Hinkle. " One of
them said it sounded like there was a
UFO down in the woods. Several peohese noisy bugs often get a bad rap, says Dr. Nancy Hinkle, professor of
ple thought somebody was running a
entomology at the University of Georgia. Here are some little-known truths-
machine down in the woods all day,
and a few benefits of having them around:
maybe a lawnmower. "
* Cicadas are harmless to humans; they cannot bite or sting.
It's the males, of course, that make
* " The main misconception is that they are locusts, " says Hinkle. " They aren't. "
all
the racket. Rapidly flexing their
(Locusts are detrimental to crops; not so with cicadas.) They're also not katydids,
near-hollow abdomens in a sort of
which sing at night. Cicadas buzz during the day.
* Periodical cicadas serve as nature's pruners, removing tree limbs before ice and
chest-beating display of ardor, they
snow can weigh them down and break them off.
broadcast the alien tone through
* " They provide food for virtually every animal in the forest, so it's not surprising
sound-amplifying membranes, called
that bird and wildlife populations often burgeon the year following a cicada
tymbals, to attract the females. After
emergence, " says Hinkle, noting that it's okay for cats and dogs to eat them.
mating, the lady bug inserts her egg* Humans can munch on them too. " They're kind of like shrimp, " Hinkle notes.
laying device under the bark in the tenNo, she hasn't cooked them herself, she says, laughing. " But there are recipes on
der tip of a branch. Within a few weeks,
the internet if you want to try them. " -NH
the grain-of-rice-sized nymphs hatch
he last time the 17-year periodical cicadas
showed up-in 2004-Nancy Hinkle drove
through the north Georgia mountains, collecting a few of the insects and taking photos.
" I'd stop my car every once in a while and listen, " recalls the good-humored entomology professor at the University of Georgia. " I'd just look
up into the trees and see them flying from one to another
and kind of bouncing off limbs periodically. They are not
elegant fliers. "

THE TRUTH ABOUT PERIODICAL CICADAS

T

10

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Blue Ridge Country May/June 2021

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