What's the buzz this summer?

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Have you heard the buzz? There's a lot of buzz, or talk, about a certain insect that shows up once in a long while but in such big numbers that it's impossible to ignore. But there's also a sound, a buzzing or whirring that might remind you of a grass trimmer.

We are talking about cicadas: 1 1/2-inch-long slow-flying insects with dark bodies and red eyes. Male cicadas are the noisy ones. Their call to females fills the air with a buzzing sound.

These cicadas aren't the ones you see occasionally in the middle of the summer. These are periodical cicadas -- 15 broods, or groups, that each appear only once in 13 or 17 years.

This year's batch is called Brood II. They have been underground since 1996, shortly after they hatched from eggs. They emerge in May or early June, once the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees.

Brood II will appear along the East Coast, from North Carolina to Connecticut, but cicadas probably won't show up in all areas. Heavy numbers are expected in Southern Maryland and the outer Virginia suburbs -- and by "heavy numbers," we mean there might be a couple million.

That's a lot of cicadas!

Dan Babbitt, manager of the National Museum of Natural History's Insect Zoo, says there's no need to worry.

"They can't hurt you in any way," Mr. Babbitt said. "And they don't hurt animals."

Newly planted trees probably should be covered to protect them from egg-laying female cicadas, he said. Bigger trees may lose small branches but otherwise will be fine.

Animals will see them as a tasty, protein-filled treat. Birds, mice, raccoons, opossums and other animals will eat them.

"I heard lots of stories of dogs going nuts" in 2004 because they enjoyed the flying snacks so much, Mr. Babbitt said.

The bugs' exoskeleton is hard to digest, so animals may get sick if they eat too many.

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