Creepy 17-year cicada might creep into area

April 26, 2013
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Our old "friend," the periodical cicada
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Entomophobes in Southwestern Pennsylvania can rest easy this spring and summer, because the much-feared 17-year cicada that is set to invade the East Coast won’t likely emerge from the ground in this region.

But, the outbreak can be viewed as a warning that cicada broods native to Washington and Greene counties are preparing to stick their heads out of the ground to mate in large numbers in 2016 or 2019, according to science’s best guesses.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they did show up here,” said Dr. Chad Hanna, a California University of Pennsylvania biology professor, while discussing this year’s cicada swarm predicted to begin this month or in early May in North Carolina.

This emergence will continue through June, moving north into Washington, D.C., and New York as the ground temperature warms to about 64 degrees.

“There could be some here,” Hanna said. “That’s the ambiguity of it.”

There is an everyday relative of the insect named the dog-day cicada that appears every summer, but not in the thousands, Hanna said. And then there is the upcoming cyclical cicada.

“Every year there is somewhere in the country where a big brood of them hatch,” Hanna said.

The winged bug has been described as alien-like with its large, orange-red eyes. It’s scary enough to send children running indoors, yet, it is largely harmless to people, pets and plants.

About the only possible injury a person could suffer is a skin prick if they are jabbed by the bug’s ovipositor, a sword-like tail females use to attach to trees to lay eggs.

“They look kind of crazy,” Hanna said. “They are clumsy. They fly really bad. When they die they are a mess. But, they are a huge bonanza of food for birds, snakes, lizards and fish.”

And if this story couldn’t get any more gross, the Internet has been filling up with recipes listing the cicada as an ingredient, anything from cicada tempura to banana cicada bread. People who eat them say online they have a nutty flavor.

The bug also is expected to trend like mad on Twitter, as its the first time such an emergence has occurred during the boom in social media.

Every 13 to 17 years this species digs up from the ground, where, as juveniles, they survived away from the sun feeding on root sap, Hanna said.

Once out of the ground, they climb up trees, molt into adults and shed their outer covering.

This is when the adult males “make that loud sound,” he said, to attract female companionship. The females lay eggs, and when they hatch, it’s back into the ground for another long hideaway. The above-ground invasion lasts four to six weeks.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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