Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Cicada an oddity among oddities

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jenn Webb, a senior at the College of Mount St. Joseph, takes the temperature of the ground. Cicadas will emerge when the ground temperature hits 64 degrees.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/MICHAEL E. KEATING
Even in the insect world - where hundreds of eyes, body armor and three pairs of legs is often the norm - cicadas are considered weird.

These curious insects have scattered generations across time, unearthing themselves on different cycles that vary from every year to every 17th year - with periodical cicada emergence cycles of 13 and 17 years easily the longest of any known insect.

This year's emerging group, called Brood X, is the largest of all cicada broods and will number in the billions across Greater Cincinnati alone.

After living 17 years underground, where they survive on the juice in roots, these Gen Xers are expected to begin pestering the region May 14, give or take five days - only after the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees - with weeks of song and sex that will leave them dead by the end of June.

Cicada mania
Cicada watch 2004
And those are the lucky cicadas. For every cicada that sings a love song and finds a mate, dozens will die in the mouths of just about any hungry animal with teeth, including humans.

"Cicadas are best eaten when they are still white. They taste like cold canned asparagus," said Gene Kritsky, professor of biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph and one of the most published cicada researchers.

Their plan is simple:

Come out in such large numbers that any animal prone to eating the insect will gorge itself to the point of being sated. The surviving cicadas fly into trees, where females lay their eggs in tree branches.

"The males sing and the (receptive) females flick their wings," Kritsky said. "He sings and she flicks. You can think of it as a big singles bar."


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