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.
It's not likely cicadas will be a nuisance over the Memorial Day weekend. But by the middle of next week, after several dry days in the upper 70s, the bulk of North Jersey's cicadas should finally emerge, Rutgers University entomologist George Hamilton told The Record of Woodland Park.
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 after emerging, the males will start their raspy mating call, which can reach 120 decibels _ as loud as a motorcycle _ and then 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 to humans. And they provide a sudden, plentiful food source for local birds, raccoons and even pet dogs.
Some adventurous humans will surely try dining on cicadas. Physiologically, cicadas are not that different from shrimp or crayfish, said Andrew Liebhold, a research entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service. There are numerous cicada recipes on websites _ everything from cicada portobello quiche and curried cicadas with chickpeas to Southern cicada tartlets and German chocolate cicada cake.
“I've only had one when someone else cooked them up in a Szechuan sauce,” said Chris Simon, a cicada expert at the University of Connecticut. “It just tasted like the sauce.”
Simon is asking the public to help plot detailed maps of Brood II cicadas as they emerge by going to her website, magicicada.org, and entering information in a database there. A map on the site gets updated daily.
Gus Allen of Tenafly saw three cicadas on his property Thursday, and promptly killed them. He remembers taking measures during the 1979 Brood II emergence to keep the cicada population under control in his yard. He painted a sticky, tarry substance in a six-inch band around tree trunks about 5 feet off the ground. Then, when climbing cicadas got stuck, he'd sweep them into a coffee can filled with kerosene. “That reduced the numbers,” he said.
Rutgers' Hamilton said he was not familiar with that strategy, and would hesitate to recommend it.
Lynne Algrant, who lives in northeastern Englewood near the Englewood Cliffs border, said she has seen about 30 cicadas in her front yard, and another 50 while walking her dog in the neighborhood. “I noticed lots of holes in the yard in the past few weeks, perfectly round holes,” she said. “I guess that's where they were hanging out for the past 17 years.”
Mike Auerbach, who lives in the Lionshead Lake neighborhood of Wayne, said he has seen at least a hundred cicadas, perhaps more, in his back yard. “They've crawled out of the ground and have attached themselves to the leaves and branches of two trees,” he said Friday. “Many have already left behind their shells. Some are still coming out of the ground.”
That's just the prologue.