Some Iowa cicadas make unexpected appearance four years ahead of schedule

Jun 04, 2010
Periodic cicada

(PhysOrg.com) -- The 17-year cicadas found in central and southeast Iowa aren't supposed to come out until 2014, but a small percentage are emerging now, four years ahead of schedule. "These cicadas appeared in 1963, 1980, and 1997," said Donald Lewis, professor of entomology at Iowa State University. "They should not have appeared until 2014."

Lewis started getting reports of these early-risers two weeks ago. The are found in much of the state from Boone County south to the Missouri border and east to the .

Periodical live underground for 17 years then transform to the adult stage to appear above ground for a brief period. They are known for their mass emergences of tens of thousands per tree. The adults mate, lay eggs and die. The 17-year cycle is by far the longest of any insect in Iowa.

Lewis has been collecting informal reports from people in Polk, Madison, Warren, Monroe, Des Moines and Decatur counties who are hearing the insect this year. The male cicada makes a loud, whirring buzz-like sound intended to attract a mate.

After mating, the females lay the eggs in the tree, and then die, as do the males. There may be up to 20,000 to 40,000 cicadas in each tree in which they are found. In about four weeks, the cicadas are gone for another 17-year cycle.

Types found in the other parts of the country are either on 13-year or 17-year cycles and emerge in different years. Another type of cicadas, called annual cicadas, come out in the second half of the summer every year.

During their 17-year (or 13-year) wait, cicadas attach themselves to tree roots to feed off the sap. Scientists believe that cicadas are taking seasonal signals from the trees on how many years have passed.

In parts of the eastern half of the country, periodical cicadas have been emerging early as well, almost always by the same four-year period. Cicadas have not been known to emerge early before the year 2000. Lewis said no one really knows why.

"There's a whole lot of mystery to what the cicada is counting and what happened in (some) winters that made it count it twice," he said. "We do know we've got to enjoy it while we've got it.

"This is exciting to entomologists, and it is exciting to people who appreciate this phenomenon. And it's not harmful to trees, crops, people or property."

While not offering a scientific explanation, Lewis has theories on why the last decade has seen so many early emergences of the insect.

"The alarming part is, what has changed so much in our lifetime that the cicadas would change a fundamental part of their lifecycle and make this mistake?" he asks. "Climate change is one possibility."

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User comments : 11

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Coldstatic
5 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2010
maybe they know 2012 is coming?? haha
Djincs
not rated yet Jun 04, 2010
Yes we are the cause of that AGAIN!
They should check the DNA thats how new species begin their existance, now they are separated already from the main group from crosmating and they will start to diverge.
moj85
not rated yet Jun 04, 2010
Why would it be that the insects are required to stay underground for exactly 17 years? Perhaps they just need to reach a certain growth stage (dependent on the energy they get from the trees) to emerge. Maybe the trees are producing more energy recently? There are probably many explanations for this.
Djincs
3 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2010
This is a good strategy actually they are waithing that long and when they apear eventually they are in great numbers, and the magority of animals dont know what is happening they are not used to eat them(they are isolated from the food chane), I think they can grow and faster if they want....
the bad part is that while other insects change theeir generation each year they are doing so once in 17 ages, this is much slower even for the birds and mammals, in that way they will adapt much slowly in the changing envirenment, and if the change is dramatical they wont make it.....
LuckyBrandon
1 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2010
I like the idea of living just to bang and then die...lol...although I think I'd like to have more than 1 romp in the hay before I went...
These bugs are MASSIVELY annoying though...when I see any of this lineage, I kill them as I see them so as to not get disturbingly annoyed by their "love songs"...you figure if they only pop up every 17 yrs, they must not have much of a true use in the world...to me, an animal that can be safely wiped from the planet.
StillWind
3 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2010
Contrary to what some have posited here, cicadas are part of the food chain, and many mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles gorge themselves when cicadas emerge.
Clearly, the climate changes. We have a 4.5 billions year history of those changes, and the changes we see now aren't particularly remarkable.
Cicadas have survived through many that make the current shifts look seasonal by comparison.
I think the idea that we may have had a cross breeding of 17 yr. cycads with annual cycads is very intriguing. I'd love to see some real work done to confirm or deny this.
As for the "never seen this before" argument, humans are incredible short sighted and lived, and there is a whole lot that we haven't seen.
Let's not let our arrogance make any greater fools of us than we already are.
Djincs
4 / 5 (2) Jun 05, 2010
"Contrary to what some have posited here, cicadas are part of the food chain, and many mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles gorge themselves when cicadas emerge."
Afcource they eat them, but which scpecies rely on them as a food source, if they are gone this wont have any effect in the ecosistems(i dont say they should they are really amazing), compared to other species of insects...
"Cicadas have survived through many"
yes they have but I am just revising their strategy, they are less likely to survive if the climate or the envirenment start to change, the fact that little number of species are doing this trick showls it is not that clever after all....
Jaydawg
4 / 5 (1) Jun 05, 2010
This might sound silly but could it be possible that these '17' year cicadas are actually '13' year cicadas? Maybe an introduced species? I hope it is just a coincidence that there is a difference of 4 years and they are early by 4 years...

Surely they've already thought of this but you never know?
Doug_Huffman
5 / 5 (1) Jun 05, 2010
Genus [i]Magicicada[/i] is well known to have a 13-year cohort in the American South.

http://en.wikiped...a#Broods
magpies
1 / 5 (1) Jun 05, 2010
These are the bees that vanished!!!
benjamindf
not rated yet Jun 05, 2010
I love how the scientist says 'change this fundamental part of their life cycle and make this mistake'

Make this mistake.

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