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PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLE Annual cicada hangs while its wings dry soon after emerging from its nymph shell. PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLE Annual cicada hangs while its wings dry soon after emerging from its nymph shell.

That cicada song

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 by BUD COLE Special to The Press in Focus

Annuals expected; 17-year locusts unlikely in Valley

"They're here" is the familiar quote from the 1982 horror film, "Poltergeist."

The line was repeated, with a slight variation, in ""Poltergeist II: The Other Side" (1986) as "They're back."

The quotes refer this time, not to a young girl and ghosts, but to this year's return of the Brood II Cicada.

These cicadas were born in 1996. They dropped to the ground and dug their way below the surface where they waited 17 years before emerging to continue their lengthy life cycle.

Yes, "they're back," but not in the numbers experts predicted. The East Coast was to be up to its earlobes in Brood II Cicadas by now, but there have been very few areas experiencing infestations.

There are several reasons for this. The unusually cold spring weather delayed their emergence. Cicadas only come out when the weather is warm.

"The strange weather may have had a detrimental effect on the brood," says Gary Hevel, a research collaborator with the Smithsonian Institution entomology department.

"I would expect that stronger numbers will occur in the following weeks as weather temperatures rise ... at least in those areas of previous occurrence, as reflected by the earlier records. Hopefully, it is not just an 'off' year for a successful emergence," Hevel says.

Location can also play a part in the emergence. Cities, with buildings, streets and paved areas, prevent the insects from emerging through the many solid areas. They emerge in parks and natural surroundings.

I do not remember experiencing cicadas in our yard or in our neighborhood during the last emergence in 1996, so I do not think they'll appear this summer.

Cicadas are often confused with locusts. The two insects are entirely different species.

Locusts feed on plant leaves and can ruin extensive areas of crops, forests and plant habitats.

Cicadas do not feed while they are above ground. The only damage, which is usually minor, caused by cicadas is when tree twigs occasionally split while the females lay their eggs. Tree twig fissures provide favorite locations for their eggs.

Usually, cicadas are heard and not seen. The males produce sounds by vibrating a set of muscles against a drum-like area on their thorax. Adult cicadas have three body parts and six legs. The thorax is the middle section between the head and abdomen. The legs are attached to the thorax.

The two general types of cicadas in the Lehigh Valley region are the annual and the periodical cicadas. They vary from one- to two-inches in length. The annuals are usually larger than the periodicals.

Most cicadas spend about five to six weeks above ground as adults. The winged adults spend most of their lives under ground as nymphs. They move about below the surface and feed on roots.

Cicadas go through what is known as incomplete metamorphosis. There are three stages of growth, rather than the common four stages of complete metamorphosis in which there is an egg, larva, pupa and adult stage.

Cicadas do not emerge from the eggs as larvae. The nymphs hatch directly from the eggs and molt several times as they grow.

When cicadas are ready to molt for the last time, they crawl out of the ground and climb a nearby tree. While the fully-grown nymph clings tightly to the bark with its claws, its skin slits down the back and the adult emerges.

Adults feed for one week to several weeks. Then they mate and the female lays her eggs. The eggs are usually deposited in slits cut along the sides of tree twigs. The annual cicadas rarely damage trees, but the periodical species that emerge in spring often injure fruit trees.

The eggs hatch about two months later and the life cycle begins again. Some species are commonly called harvest-flies because of their late summer arrival.

Others are known as 17-year locusts but remember, they are not locusts.

The more than 75 species of cicadas vary widely on the amount of time it takes to mature. Birds feast upon heavy hatches of the periodicals.

Watch for Brood II in your neck of the woods or you can wait until they emerge again in 2030.

It won't be long, however, before the annual cicadas begin emerging with the multitude of males serenading us with their late afternoon and evening songs.

That's the way I see it!

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