ALBANY (TNS) — Don’t hold your breath awaiting the emergency of billions of cicadas in New York later this spring. Despite the hype surrounding the mass emergence of Brood X cicadas, they won’t crawling out of the ground anywhere Upstate because they don’t live here.
Lots of people by now have seen or read about Brood X, a variety of cicadas (thumbnail-sized insects) that live and grow underground emerging once every 17 years to breed and lay their eggs before dying after a few weeks.
While hard to spot and harmless, their sound is ubiquitous when and where they do emerge due their distinctive rattling sound. Most people have heard it, but the Brood X, due to its size, is supposed to be unusually loud — creating a thrum that can approach 100 decibels, similar to a subway train rushing by.
There have been scattered media reports, along with some web-based maps, suggesting they will be found in Upstate areas. But that is not the case said Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an entomologist with Cornell University’s Integrated Pest Management program.
In reality, they are expected to emerge in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia.
That doesn’t mean there are no cicadas in the region. But Brood X, or the Great Eastern Brood, consists of three species that emerge once every 17 years. They are identifiable by their red eyes.
There may be other misconceptions. Brood X isn’t some mystical allusion to X-Files or an unknown factor. It merely signifies the number 10. There is, for example a Brood VI, which emerged in Upstate New York in 2012. All in all there are 20 known broods.
The various broods emerge at 11, 13 or 17-year cycles, said Gangloff-Kaufmann.
The periodic appearances is believed to be an evolutionary adaptation. By spending just a few weeks above ground, they limit their exposure to predators such as birds or squirrels.
The years between the emergence events are delineated in prime numbers, that is they are only divisible by one. One theory for that it that it’s another evolutionary tactic to prevent different broods from overlapping with cyclical population swings among predators such as robins or wasps.
”It’s a universal biological strategy,” said Gangloff-Kauffman, who explained that even trees do that, as evidenced by how acorns are abundant in some years but not others.
Historically, Long Island has been Brood X territory but Gangloff-Kaufmann said that 17 years ago in 2004, when there were supposed to emerge, they couldn’t be found.
They may be extinct on Long Island, probably because of development and pesticide use.
”When you remove trees and build houses, you lose all tree-root feeding insects. There are a few but most noticeable are cicadas. Then you install lawns and use grub control. You finish them off,” she said.