What’s Not to Love About Cicadas (Other Than a Little Noise)?

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June 1, 2021

 

Frank Meek remembers the 2004 Brood X cicada emergence well. “I was in an airport in Ohio and got stopped at security because there were some cicadas on my back. I had no idea that they were there,” Meek, technical services manager at Rollins, recalled with a chuckle. Like so many others in the pest control industry, Meek is excited about the 17-year visit from Brood X, which are unique in that they emerge in extremely large numbers across a large swath of the Midwest and East Coast.

“I love when these types of things happen because it gets people talking and asking questions and it gives us a chance to explain that insects are basically good,” said Meek, who added that he especially loves when kids ask him questions. “They see those cast-off skins on trees, bring them over and ask about them. It gives you that chance to talk about them and explain this wonderful phenomena.”

Mount St. Joseph University
The Cicada Safari app.

For cicada enthusiasts, 2021’s Brood X emergence is enhanced by Cicada Safari, an app (iOS and Android) developed in conjunction with Mount St. Joseph’s Center for IT Engagement. Users who download the free app can snap a photo or capture video of cicadas. The date, time, and geographical coordinates of each observation are automatically captured, and also uploaded into the app, which then maps all of the observations for both real-time examination and future research. As reported by the Entomological Society of America, Gene Kritsky, Ph.D., dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, and colleagues, rolled out the app in 2019, to try it out during some smaller brood emergences. The results were promising. App users submitted 5,721 photos and videos in 2019 and nearly 8,000 in 2020. This year, with the size and range of Brood X, they’re hoping to go really big — 50,000 observations.

As a journalist, it’s been fun to track media coverage of Brood X. In particular, I liked USA Today’s splashy, full-color infographic (https://bit.ly/2T141cE), a trademark of the newspaper. USA Today’s coverage includes a very detailed drawing showing the five stages of a cicada’s lifecycle and an up-close look at the two vibrating tymbals on the male cicadas that create noise. All good stuff! I also have to give a shout-out to the New York Post, which profiled chef Joseph Yoon (https://bit.ly/346wCQ4), who has been busy creating cicada nymph meals and treats, including cicada salad, cicada guacamole, cicada kimchi and cicada chocolate.

Another reason I think cicadas capture the public’s imagination is recall. Cicadas might cause people to reflect on the events from 17, 34, or more, years prior; or they might simply trigger a memorable insect encounter. For me, cicadas got me thinking about moles. Yes, moles. Let me explain. One of my favorite ride-along visits was with Tom Schmidt (aka, the MoleMan). Schmidt built a very successful business doing nothing but mole control work throughout the Cincinnati region — an area with an abundance of moles. I learned from Schmidt that one of the reasons moles love the Queen City is because the region provides moles with a favorite food source: displaced eggs from emerging periodical cicadas. It turns out Cincinnati is one of the few large metropolitan areas in the U.S. where multiple broods emerge. So while most locations in the U.S. currently witnessing the Brood X emergence will have to wait another 17 years for this phenomena, Cincinnatians can expect to see periodical cicadas in 2025 (Brood XIV) and again in 2033 (Brood V).

Who knew?

The author is senior digital editor and managing editor of PCT.