Generation VII

I am mildly obsessed with florilegia, botanical illustrations primarily. But I’m definitely beginning to appreciate all scientific illustrations. They just have a particular quality to them that can’t be encompassed by modern photography.  My office mate is one of those talented illustrators and keeps a blog for some of her work.

Recently, a friend of mine suggested I write about periodical cicadas.  So here it is!

17yr periodical cicada

Many cicada species are present in North America with many annual species.  These species emerge in late summer and are commonly known as dog-day cicadas.  Adult females lay their eggs in branches and twigs, scarring the plant tissue.  Nymphs hatch, drop to the ground, and immediately begin feeding on roots.  After several years of feeding, they emerge and undergo a final molt to their adult stage.  Annual emergences occur due to overlapping generations of populations.

The Magicicada are a genus of periodical cicadas that emerge synchronously every 13 or 17 years (prime numbers!)  Near Ithaca, we have 17-year cicadas Magicicada septemdecim (order Hemiptera) in Brood VII.  The last emergence was in 2001 in Onondaga County, just south of Syracuse.  The Finger Lakes Brood, now more commonly known as the Onondaga brood, used to span across several counties in Upstate New York.  I found a fragment recording of the courting song, courtesy of the University of Connecticut’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department.  Check out Cicada Central for more information.

Unfortunately, due to human development, cicada habitats are shrinking rapidly.  Some species of periodical cicadas are already extinct.  The next emergence of the Onondaga brood will be some time after I finish my graduate studies.  The nerd in me really would love to travel to different parts of the country to see the emergence of the periodical cicadas before then, just to say that I did.  I wonder how many other people travel to witness incredible biological events.  Or have fortuitously encountered the natural world on their travels.  Feel free to let me know 🙂


One response to this post.

  1. So with you! Lucky, nerdy me witnessed Brood X in the National Capital region (MD) in 2004. With a little creativity and prior planning (as in a couple months pre-emergence), we put together a research project looking at the consequences of cicada detritus (dense numbers in riparian forests, most die of natural causes) on stream ecosystem function – turned out to be the coolest (and most successful!) part of my dissertation! Must admit that I’m feeling very jealous of the folks in TN, NC, SC, & GA who get to witness Brood XIX!


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