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04/12/2013

The cicadas are coming...

Cicada
An adult cicada -- insects known for mating calls that produce a din that can overpower ringing telephones, lawn mowers and power tools. (AP File Photo/Daniel Hulshizer)

Sometime this month or maybe next, a biological clock felt only by cicadas will go "ding!" and a swarm of the fat, buzzy bugs will emerge from the ground, blanketing the eastern U.S. coast. 

Magicicadas, or periodical cicadas, live on 13 or 17 year cycles, as juveniles who burrowed into the ground years ago dig out and emerge as nymphs, then shed their exoskeletons and buzz off as full-grown cicacadas, swarming the same region on consistent, multi-year cycle. The cicadas belonging to each llife-cycle are named with Roman numerals, the one in question being Brood II.

Brood II is coming to a seaboard near you. 

The cicadas won't come as far north as Toronto -- Brood II's grounds stretch, approximately, from Virginia to Connecticut, and they are concentrated along the coast (we know this based on maps of previous swarms). Toronto will surely see cicadas this summer, just just the kind that come out annually, not Brood II magicicadas.

Websites like Cicadamania.com and Magicicada.org contain helpful tips and Q&A's regarding the upcoming entomological event. For example: when are they coming? Sometime this spring, says Cicadamania.com, usually when the ground temperature at 20 centimeters below the surface reaches 17.8 degrees Celsius. 

Or this, also from Cicadamania.com, which is not really a question, but has a great answer:

They're coming, and they scare me!

Get a grip! They're only bugs.

(Those in affected states and planning spring nuptials would also do well to check out their cicada wedding planner page.)

Radiolab has also set up a neat interactive map helpfully titled "Mapping Swarmageddon" which shows ground temperature readings, including ones input by listeners, and should help predict when the cicadas will arise as each temperature-reading site approaches 17.8 degrees. 

2014 will also see a periodical cicada emergence -- Brood III -- but that one will be centered in the American Mid-west, according to Magicicada.org's helpful maps. 2015's Brood IV emergence stretches a bit further south.

As for Brood II, for now, all we can do is wait and try not to let the buzz build too much.

Kate Allen is the Star's science and technology reporter. Find her on Twitter at @katecallen

Comments

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They may only be bugs, but they make an incredible stinky mess. We had a Swarmageddon last year in Texas and it was a disgusting, stinky mess of piles of huge rotting bugs even though we swept them up every morning. The noise was amazingly loud.

Cool!!!! I wish I could get to the East coast to see/hear it!

My buddy and I went to Baltimore in June of 1970 to a Jimi Hendrix concert. There were millions of these suckers flying around even downtown...we'd never seen anything like it before and glad of it.

Awww... too bad I'm not down there anymore! Nine years ago, in spring 2004, the Washington DC area was invaded by the little things.

It started with holes appearing in my backyard as if someone had taken some thumb-thick stick and punched holes all over the place, and they started crawling out of the ground from where they had been feeding off tree roots, climbed up into the trees and the railings on my porch, moulted, and turned into little vermilion-eyed gossamer-winged lumps of coal crawling and flying all over the place. I thought they were really cute.

The sparrows had a field day, intercepting them in mid-air, knocking them to the ground, and then feasting on their abdomens. I saw so many with most of their bodies eaten out, still walking around as if nothing had happened....

My cat loved them. Their wings made the most exquisite rattling sound, and she kept bringing them up the stairs into my apartment to play with... Miss the little blighters.

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