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The Ultimate Insect Event - 17 Year Cicadas

Beau . , Jun 02, 2004; 09:57 a.m.

I was just in Washington D.C. to experience the 17-year Periodical Cicadas, which I remembered so vividly from my childhood. I'm no nature photographer, in fact I shoot about two color rolls per year and generally live a nature-free life in NYC. But I thought I would risk ridicule over on the Leica board by posting a few amateurish pictures of the bugs that happened to land on me while in D.C.

In case you don't know, D.C. is the epicenter of an astounding biological explosion every 17 years, when several TRILLION of a unique species of insect, which has been living under ground since being born during the previous emergence 17 years before, crawl out of the ground, molt, and fly around mating and singing. The numbers are simply astonishing: just for a few weeks, D.C. and the surrounding areas are overwhelmed with bugs -- trillions overall, 1.5 million per acre on average, which means a virtual carpet of insects on your house, trees, car, and (to the chagrin of the squeamish) body. They are so loud (one insect can hit the same decibel level as a power lawnmower) that you have to shout over the din. The insects have no defensiveness whatsoever, and are always willing to be handled (or photographed). Scientists come from all over the world to study and enjoy the event, and a lot of people travel there to eat the bugs, as supposedly the are the best-tasting insects around (and you only have the chance every 17 years). Anyway, they are still around for a few more days, and I recommend seeing them if you can -- it's unforgettable.



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Beau . , Jun 02, 2004; 09:58 a.m.


Another view


Beau . , Jun 02, 2004; 10:00 a.m.

Here are the shells they occupy for 17 years underground, which are discarded all over the place -- people sweep them up like leaf piles.

Cicada shells

Beau . , Jun 02, 2004; 10:02 a.m.


Yet another view...

First fresh air since 1987

Chris Crevasse , Jun 02, 2004; 02:11 p.m.

Just for the record, cicadas emerge every year. With 17-year cicadas, 17 years passes from the time a particular cicada larva falls into the ground until it re-emerges. This year's re-emergence of 17-year cicadas is particularly large, which is why it has attracted attention.

Beau . , Jun 02, 2004; 03:32 p.m.

Chris, you're not quite correct. This is an entirely different species of Cicada that is unique to the region. It looks and behaves like no other bug. The reason this species is exciting is not because they're having an unusually big year; every 17 years is this big, bigger than any other such phenomenon on earth. You can count back in multiples of 17 to sometime in the 16th Century and a diary from a colonist of the period will say: "a moste curiose flye has come from the grounde in greate numbers this year..."

Matt Bagwell , Jun 02, 2004; 09:26 p.m.

i recall hearing something about them having a prime number life cycle to reduce/prevent having any natural predators (or something to that effect?)

Mark Ci , Jun 03, 2004; 02:17 a.m.

I don't know what species is in your region, but there are three species of periodic cicadas, and brood X, which is what is active now, consists of all three. There are 12 broods of 17-year cicadas and this is merely the largest.

Douglas Stemke , Jun 03, 2004; 07:07 a.m.

Just to add Brood X is not limited to the DC area. There are several other large patches of it, the largest actually covers the southern half of Indiana (where I am), Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and parts of neighboring states. A map is posted here


When I used to live in Louisiana we had a huge species (fortunately one that wasn't part of a large brood). Individuals were so loud that a single one in a nearby tree would disrupt our class. Then there would be these titanic battles between thes huge Cicadas and the almost as large Cicada wasps. Sounded like the 4th of July!

Andrew Lee , Jun 03, 2004; 09:41 a.m.

Neat. What did you use to get these macro photos? Doesn't quite look like Leica and 24mm :>

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