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Eew, cicadas (05/26/2013)
By Frances Edstrom


The next time some East Coast hipster sneers at you for “hailing from the great state of Minnesota” (story coming up) you can remind him of the coming cicada invasion of that same East Coast about which he is so snooty.

(OK, here is the story within the story. My daughter Morgan, while living and working in Chicago, frequented a restaurant in Greek Town for lunch with her co-workers. To get to a parking place, she had to drive her car, which had Minnesota plates, through an alley that was a gathering place for homeless men. One day, as she drove slowly through, one of the men, old and grizzled and toothless, came up to her car window, a big smile on his face, and said, “Hey! I, too, hail from the great state of Minnesota!”)

Back to cicadas.

I received an invitation in the mail to my nephew Luke’s wedding to the beautiful Katie, which will be held in August in Taneytown, Maryland. Taneytown, which is quite close to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is where Katie’s parents live on a farm, from the picture a beautiful place. I mentioned the wedding invitation to my sister, who said she hoped the wedding wouldn’t be during the cicada infestation. Me, too, I thought.

Just in case a cicada invasion might demand certain wardrobe accommodations (such as a big hat, gloves, nets, and pants tucked into combat boots), I looked up information on the “Invasion of 2013” on the internet. There will indeed be billions of cicadas visiting the East Coast of the U.S. this summer, but the invasion should be well over by the August wedding.

As long as I looked it up, I thought I’d share what I learned with you. It will make you feel good about things like snow, below zero temps, mosquitoes and food on a stick.

The cicadas that will be invading the East Coast are the 17-year variety. That means they will have spent the last 17 years a couple of feet under the ground, sucking on tree roots and molting. In fact, they molt four times while they are underground. When they emerge after 17 years, they are wingless and silent. Then they molt again, leaving a brown crusty shell, grow another half an inch and get their wings.

They are called magicicadas, are about an inch long or so, and have big, bulging red eyes. The males emerge first. In one article I read, a University of Maryland entomologist was quoted as saying we should think of it as the guys getting to the singles bar first. Because, the entire reason for emerging from their nice cosy home deep in the ground is to have sex. And they are not discreet about it, either!

It is estimated that during the infestation (this one called Brood II) there will be about 600 cicadas for each person in the area. Gulp. And while the cicadas are whooping it up looking for mates, they make a lot of noise. The males sit on tree branches and sing (and probably drink beer). When a female happens by, the males dance and change their tune (sound familiar?) and then they mate. The females lay about 600 eggs on tree branches. Males keep on mating. The same U of M entomologist, Mike Raupp, was again quoted concerning the serial mating by the males — “that’s what puts the ‘cad’ in cicada.” During the last infestation, it was said that they made so much noise you couldn’t hear a jet going overhead.

When the eggs hatch, the little guys and gals jump out of the trees and eventually bore into the ground to begin their next 17 years. And then it’s over, except I suppose for the crusty brown shells and the millions of birds wondering when they took the smorgasbord down. If you want to read more, the best story was at http://phys.org/news/2013-05-eastern-overrun-cicadas.html.

By the time I get to Maryland, I fervently hope, there should be no sign of the magicicadas, and Katie and Luke’s wedding will be a thing of beauty and the beginning of many years of happiness for two of my favorite relatives. 


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