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Illinois hunting and fishing

Thirteen-year cicadas have red eyes and orange on their wings. Associated Press Photo.

Expect a noisy party from 13-year cicadas

May 23, 2011 at 12:33 PM

The State Journal-Register

The cicada class of 2011 will be here as soon as this week, and you can expect the graduation party to be a noisy one.

Periodical 13-year cicadas will be louder and more numerous than the annual or dog-day cicadas often associated with warm summer evenings.

While the annual cicadas sing during the late afternoon and early evening hours, periodical cicadas sing during the day.

Extension entomologist Phil Nixon of the University of Illinois said we’ll be sure to notice.

“They are going to make a considerably larger splash,” Nixon said. “Typically their songs meld together into a high shrill sound that is considerably more annoying to people than the annual or dog-day cicadas we are used to.”

Periodical cicadas are somewhat smaller — just over an inch long — and have a black body, orange wing base and distinctive red eyes, Nixon said.

Tim Cashatt, chairman of zoology at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, said the cicadas already should be here.

“I plugged into a formula online that said they should have been out May 11,” he said. “But we’ve had some rain and cold weather, so I expect that’s what’s delayed them.”

The cicadas start to emerge when the temperature of the ground reaches 64 degrees.

Cashatt said he expects the cicadas to be active for about a month.

“It will take a day or two to harden up (after they emerge from underground) to the point where they can start calling,” he said. “Once they start chorusing, they’ll do that for a couple of weeks and lay eggs.

“They die shortly after that.”

Illinois is home to both 13-year and 17-year periodical cicadas.

Thirteen-year cicadas are found in the southern half of the state, Nixon said.

“In Sangamon County, you only get 13-year cicadas, but in Lincoln or in the Bloomington area you get the 17-year,” he said. “Generally, the Mackinaw River (in McLean County) is the dividing line.”

Periodical cicadas in the Southern states mature more quickly because of a longer growing season and warmer temperatures, thus taking only 13 years.

In the north, it takes 17 years before the nymphs feeding on tree roots are ready to emerge from the ground and attract a mate.

Nixon said the long cycle also might have something to do with confusing potential enemies.

“Probably, the long time span befuddles any predators or parasites that would tend to eliminate them,” he said.

No one knows how nature settled on 13 or 17 years.

“Why 13 instead of 10, or 17 instead of 20 years?” Nixon asked. “It’s one of those just-so stories.

“Why in the world there aren’t 15-year cicadas we don’t have a clue.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

On the Web

How many cicadas?

Scientists from the Field Museum in Chicago documented a periodical cicada emergence in 1956.

Monte Lloyd and Henry Dybas counted an average of 311 emergence holes per square yard of ground in a forested floodplain near Chicago.

That’s about 1.5 million cicadas per acre.

In upland sites, the number was 133,000 per acre.

A city block, for example, contains about 3.5 acres.

In 1990, people in Chicago used snow shovels to clear sidewalks of dead cicadas.

Source: University of Illinois Extension Service

Buffalo gnats

The next time you swat a buffalo gnat, give yourself a pat on the back at the same time.

Thanks to efforts to clean up water pollution over the past 30 years, insects like buffalo gnats, mayflies, stoneflies and others that depend upon clean water during their life cycles are thriving.

Buffalo gnats — also known as black flies — are a nuisance for a few weeks during the late spring. The females have a substance in their saliva to help them extract a meal of blood. The bite can cause welts on the skin.

During his 30-year career, extension entomologist Phil Nixon of the University of Illinois said he has witnessed a resurgence of some insects as water quality has improved.

“I grew up in Divernon in the 1960s, and I never saw a buffalo gnat growing up,” he said.

Nixon first became aware of buffalo gnats in northeastern Illinois in the 1980s.

“In the northeastern part of our state, you had more industrial pollution, which probably got people more excited about cleaning up their waterways a little bit earlier,” he said.

Nixon said changes in laws and attitudes have helped improve water quality.

“Water is cleaner, and a lot of it is due to federal and state laws and the general public’s attitude that you don’t just throw everything into the water anymore,” he said. “That’s my opinion.

“We definitely know that over the last 20-30 years, things have changed.”

—Chris Young

Copyright 2011 The State Journal-Register. Some rights reserved

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