Strangest animal emerges with friendly invasion; Shreveport bug expert explains science of Cicadas

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CADDO PARISH, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – A special type of creature takes nearly two decades to develop, but when it does they emerge by the millions.

You may have heard of Brood X, a type of Cicada that are filling up people’s neighborhoods in certain parts of the country.

They have that familiar sound that remind us of the outdoors, but the animal has one of the strangest life cycles on the planet.

Cicadas are named after the periods in which they emerge called periodical Cicadas.

“There are some areas where they are predicting where 1.4 million Cicadas are going to emerge per acre. That’s huge.” said Dr. Beverly Burden, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences LSU Shreveport.

Dr. Burden shares her expertise in Entomology. She explains the 17-year Cicadas are called Brood X which are emerging right now by the millions in the Ohio Valley to Virginia. These Cicadas have been underground, slowly growing since 2004.

“2004 was ironically the last season of Friends. So that gives you a historical point of view of how long they’ve been under ground,” Burden said.

Why do they emerge in such masses? Well, Dr. Burden said it’s a natural occurrence to give every Cicada in the brood a fighting chance.

“It’s important that these emerge simultaneously because they only live for a few short weeks, and if someone emerges late then they don’t get the opportunity to mate and pass their genes on to the next generation. So that’s why you see this massive emergence,” Burden said.

Their slow development underground may have ties to the history of the Earth.

“Why does it take them 17 years to develop? Well, it’s been hypothesized, nobody has records from way back then, but they believe it has something to do with the Ice Age. That’s normally why the longer year Cicadas, the 17-year Cicadas are located in the northern part of the United States, and the 13-year Cicadas are normally occupying the southern part of the United States,” Dr. Burden said.

She said the ArkLaTex will not be affected by Brood X. We have 13-year cicadas that emerge every 13 years.

“People around here don’t call them Cicadas. They call them locust. That’s because when European settlers began to settle here and these Cicadas emerged in mass like that, the only thing they had to compare it to was the plague of Biblical times when the locust were known as migratory grasshoppers. But properly you should know them as Cicadas,” Dr. Burden said.

The famous Cicada sound is that of the male establishing his territory and letting a female know he’s available.

“Between their abdomen and their thorax they have what looks like a little drum. It causes vibrations and get that whistling sound,”Dr. Burden said.

The female Cicada does not drum, but she has a super sharp sickle used for cutting into trees to lay her eggs.

“One morphological difference, a female would have is that the egg laying mechanism in insects is called ovipositor. It almost look like a sickle knife, a rounded knife that fits right into their abdomen. They can take that, it’s very sharp, make that incision on a twig, deposit an egg. Incision, egg, incision, egg,” Dr. Burden said.

After Brood X emerges all at once they look for something vertical to attach to and crawl out of their skin. But they only live for two weeks. So homeowners are not really affected, except for hearing the loud, mating sounds.

“They might creep people out because insects have that creepy, crawly, eh thing. Except for me. But it’s just a biological, geographical phenomenon,” Dr. Burden said.

Burden said no other insect is comparable to this 17 year life cycle of Brood X. Cicadas are only in the United States with only two other types are found worldwide.

“Theoretically there were originally 23 broods. Now they’re down to 15 due to extinction. Almost all extinction of native species is due to loss of habitat. That’s something as a community we should all be aware of,” Dr. Burden said.

In 2024, a smaller brood will emerge in the southeast corner of Oklahoma. There’s also a brood called the Baton Rouge brood.

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