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We’ve all heard the warnings: an invasion of cicadas to descend upon the East Coast in a swarm of Biblical proportions. But the huge insects, and their incessant chirping, are still nowhere to be seen (or heard).
But rest assured, the harmless pests are already among us, says Sara Ramos, the education coordinator at Cora Hartshorn Arboretum in Short Hills. The arboretum was one of the first places in New Jersey to welcome Brood II, the periodical cicadas with the 17-year life cycle.
In early April, parents involved in an educational program at the arboretum were turning over logs when they found “yellow beetle-looking things,” says Ramos. “It took a while for us to connect what we were seeing to the 17-year cicadas.”
But the woodland habitat is still cloaked in silence because most of the brood is still “nymphs”--a premature stage when the bugs are yellow, wingless and silent.
George C. Hamilton, chairman of Rutgers University’s Department of Entomology, explains that this juvenile stage must undergo a series of molts until the exoskeleton hardens. Then the males can start calling out—which accounts for all that racket—to find a mate.
“It’s one of the longest life cycles in the insect world,” says Hamilton. The nymphs spend 17 years underground, feeding on trees and roots, until emerging from the dirt to climb vertical structures like picnic tables, trees or anything they can grab onto to undergo their molting stages.
One of the reasons the presence of cicadas has been delayed is due to the inconsistent temperature. Generally, the ground temperature must warm to 64 degrees before the nymphs emerge. “The cycle is based on temperatures, so the Southern state cicadas go through a 13-year life cycle.”
The wait for “Swarmageddon” shouldn’t be long. “We normally see the broods coming out the last weeks of May or the first weeks of June,” says Hamilton. But thankfully, the din of the male cicadas is expected to last only a couple of weeks. The adult cicadas die after finding their mates and laying eggs on the underside of branches. The eggs then drop to the ground to begin the cycle all over again.
But Hamilton warns residents that spotted Brood II in their neighborhood in the past aren’t guaranteed a return visit.
“There are 17 broods, at least here in New Jersey,” says Hamilton. “We have lost most of the broods. The only two major ones we have are Brood II this year and Brood X of 2004.” Hamilton attributes this loss to land development, which has stripped some local broods of trees and food sources for the nymphs.
Although many local broods have died away, Hamilton says the din provided by Brood II will still be deafening. He estimates “hundreds of thousands” of cicadas will hit New Jersey, just in time for summer.