Rain, Cool Temperatures Delay Cicada Explosion


It seems even cicadas don’t like going out in the rain.

The anticipated emergence of billions of 17-year cicadas this spring — already in full throttle from the Carolinas to central New Jersey — has been suppressed so far in North Jersey, as wet and much cooler weather swept in this week just as the inch-long bugs were set to crawl from the ground.

Periodical cicadas usually emerge only when the soil temperature reaches a sustained 64 degrees, and this week’s cooler air and rain have prevented that.

But Rutgers University entomologist George Hamilton says that by the middle of the week, after several dry days in the upper 70s, the bulk of North Jersey’s cicadas should finally emerge.

Still, from Englewood to Oakland, a smattering of industrious cicadas did make an appearance this week.

Jeff Wickliffe, of Clifton, who often hikes the woods to photograph wildlife, came upon a cicada and the translucent exoskeleton it had sloughed off near Hudson Terrace in Englewood Cliffs on Wednesday. He went back to the same spot Friday and discovered about a dozen of the red-eyed, orange-legged cicadas on leaves in the woods.

“It was about 51 degrees and rainy, so they weren’t too active,” Wickliffe said. “But there were lots of them just hanging about.”

This generation of periodical cicadas, known as Brood II, are emerging after 17 years in the soil, where they dug tunnels and sipped the fluid of tree roots. Now, they will clamber from the ground through small holes they dig near the base of tree trunks, find a vertical surface, and climb out of their exoskeletons. Their pale white skin will turn dark after a few hours basking in the sun, and then they will climb up into the trees and start to fly.

About four days later, their raspy call, which can reach 120 decibels — as loud as a motorcycle — will begin and the females will lay eggs in slits they make along the bottom of tree branches. Soon after, the adults will all drop from the trees, dead. The entire process will last about five weeks.

The eggs will hatch after about six weeks, and the baby cicadas, no larger than a grain of rice, will drop to the ground, burrow a foot or two into the earth, and not be seen again until 2030.

Though they can become a nuisance because of their sheer numbers — the largest recorded concentration was 1.5 million of them within an acre — cicadas are harmless. And they provide a sudden, plentiful food source for local birds, raccoons and even pet dogs.

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