Here Comes the Buzz

May 2, 2013

WCS entomologist Craig Gibbs reflects on this spring’s emergence of Brood II cicadas, seen only once every 17 years along the East Coast. Gibbs explains the ecological role of this remarkable phenomenon, part of the “microcosmos beneath our feet.”

It may not be as grand as the wildebeest migrations across Africa’s eastern savanna or the march of emperor penguins across miles of Antarctic ice to their inland nesting areas. But it is a wildlife phenomenon not seen elsewhere in the world.

Over the next few weeks, as soil temperatures reach a sustained temperature of 64 degrees, cicadas from Connecticut to North Carolina will emerge from their subterranean world for the first time since they burrowed underground as nymphs in 1996, returning in numbers that dwarf those other spectacles. The buzzing of males will be heard in a mating ritual that stretches back to at least the ice age. Then, within six weeks, they will all be dead, hundreds of millions, if not billions, of them, and their progeny will not be seen until 2030.

These are the Brood II cicadas, one of the longest living insects in the world, seen only once every 17 years along the East Coast. 

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