The Ultimate Insect Event - 17 Year Cicadas

Discussion in 'Nature' started by beau *, Jun 2, 2004.

  1. I was just in Washington D.C. to experience the 17-year Periodical Cicadas, which I remembered so vividly from my childhood. I'm no nature photographer, in fact I shoot about two color rolls per year and generally live a nature-free life in NYC. But I thought I would risk ridicule over on the Leica board by posting a few amateurish pictures of the bugs that happened to land on me while in D.C. In case you don't know, D.C. is the epicenter of an astounding biological explosion every 17 years, when several TRILLION of a unique species of insect, which has been living under ground since being born during the previous emergence 17 years before, crawl out of the ground, molt, and fly around mating and singing. The numbers are simply astonishing: just for a few weeks, D.C. and the surrounding areas are overwhelmed with bugs -- trillions overall, 1.5 million per acre on average, which means a virtual carpet of insects on your house, trees, car, and (to the chagrin of the squeamish) body. They are so loud (one insect can hit the same decibel level as a power lawnmower) that you have to shout over the din. The insects have no defensiveness whatsoever, and are always willing to be handled (or photographed). Scientists come from all over the world to study and enjoy the event, and a lot of people travel there to eat the bugs, as supposedly the are the best-tasting insects around (and you only have the chance every 17 years). Anyway, they are still around for a few more days, and I recommend seeing them if you can -- it's unforgettable.
  2. Another view
  3. Here are the shells they occupy for 17 years underground, which are discarded all over the place -- people sweep them up like leaf piles.
  4. Yet another view...
  5. Just for the record, cicadas emerge every year. With 17-year cicadas, 17 years passes from the time a particular cicada larva falls into the ground until it re-emerges. This year's re-emergence of 17-year cicadas is particularly large, which is why it has attracted attention.
  6. Chris, you're not quite correct. This is an entirely different species of Cicada that is unique to the region. It looks and behaves like no other bug. The reason this species is exciting is not because they're having an unusually big year; every 17 years is this big, bigger than any other such phenomenon on earth. You can count back in multiples of 17 to sometime in the 16th Century and a diary from a colonist of the period will say: "a moste curiose flye has come from the grounde in greate numbers this year..."
  7. i recall hearing something about them having a prime number life cycle to
    reduce/prevent having any natural predators (or something to that effect?)
  8. I don't know what species is in your region, but there are three species of periodic cicadas, and brood X, which is what is active now, consists of all three. There are 12 broods of 17-year cicadas and this is merely the largest.
  9. stemked

    stemked Moderator

    Just to add Brood X is not limited to the DC area. There are several other large patches of it, the largest actually covers the southern half of Indiana (where I am), Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and parts of neighboring states. A map is posted here

    When I used to live in Louisiana we had a huge species (fortunately one that wasn't part of a large brood). Individuals were so loud that a single one in a nearby tree would disrupt our class. Then there would be these titanic battles between thes huge Cicadas and the almost as large Cicada wasps. Sounded like the 4th of July!
  10. Neat. What did you use to get these macro photos? Doesn't quite look like Leica and 24mm :>
  11. It's true that "Brood X" isn't just in D.C. (their territory extends out into Kentucky and southern Ohio), but I'm told the Washington area is considered the epicenter.

    My understanding is that each brood has become geographically and genetically distinct. Other Cicadas have different life cycles and different behavior. For instance, the 13-year Cicadas from a little further south, besides looking different, are very fast and strong fliers, while Brood X relies on "predator satiation" -- i.e., they survive and reproduce because the birds just can't eat all zillion of them.

    I believe it is incorrect that this year's emergence involves the coincidence of various broods. The whole point of the 17-year cycle (17 being a large prime number, like 13) is to avoid coinciding with the emergence of other species and risking interbreeding.
  12. Andrew,

    This was my Nikon FE2 with a 55 2.8 ais lens. Some kind of Fuji 400 film.

    I've never tried this kind of photo before, but it's really hard to get the focus right if the subject is moving. Especially when you're using available light and shooting at f/4 or whatever.
  13. "Brood X" would be an excellent name for a band, if isn't already.

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