A Plague of Locusts?
The periodical cicada (which is not actually a locust) is a black, wedge-shaped insect about an inch long. You can recognize it by its large, reddish eyes and web-like wings. Unlike the annual, “dog-day” cicadas with which most of us are familiar, the periodical cicada enjoys an extraordinary life span lasting thirteen or seventeen years, depending on the variety.
These insects exist underground as nymphs for most of their long lives, feeding on the sap from tree roots. When warm temperatures tempt the nymphs from their burrows, the entire population crawls up at once - resulting in an emergence of epic proportions.
Once on higher ground, the nymphs mature into adult cicadas and begin their mating rituals. By flexing drum-like structures on their abdomens, males create the familiar droning sounds necessary to attract females. Females lay their eggs in small tree branches where they hatch, fall to the ground as nymphs and return to the earth for another thirteen-year period.
What should we expect this year? Noise. Although we hear the song of annual cicadas each year, the incredible number of insects composing a periodical cicada chorus is enough to drown out conversation or even a lawnmower. The males will begin singing in early May, from dawn until dusk, tapering off in June. The warmer the temperature, the louder the volume.
Adult cicadas live for only five or six weeks, making their visit noticeable but brief. By the end of June, this particular population will head back underground until 2024, when they will emerge to take up the chorus once more.
For more information on Missouri’s periodical cicadas, including audio of their song, visit the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website.
Insect enthusiasts may want to check out the following titles from the Springfield-Greene County Library:
- The Curious World of Bugs: the Bugman's Guide to the Mysterious and Remarkable Lives of Things that Crawl by Daniel Marlos
- Insect Museum: Describing 114 Species of Insects and other Arthropods, Including Their Natural History and Environment by Sonia Dourlot
- Insectopedia by Hugh Raffles
- Critter Quest: Bug Out on a Backyard Safari! (DVD)
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