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Where Are All The Cicadas?
I have been anticipating for a long time the arrival of the cicadas that were laid as eggs in the year 1996. I can still remember the wall of white noise that their parents produced 17 years ago. Most people complained that it sounded like a jet engine revving up for takeoff but to me it sounded like a gorgeous and intricate symphony.
I was ecstatic to learn that the cicadas would be returning this year and filling the air with a 7 kHz mating buzz. Predictions stated that cicadas would outnumber people 600 to 1. I couldn't be happier. As time passed though I realized I wasn't hearing any of their synchronized love songs. Did the invitation get lost in the mail? Maybe they are just showing up fashionably late. No. It turns out that the dense urban design of New York City has blocked the cicadas almost completely. "The decline in cicadas in New York is likely the result of land use" states Gene Kritsky, a cicada expert at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio. "If trees were removed from areas where cicadas had emerged in the past and they are not within a mile of other cicadas, then the population would not replenish itself. This has resulted in a very sporadic distribution of the cicadas in more urban areas." At this point, the experts say, about 90 percent of the cicadas that will emerge have emerged and only one borough is being visited by these insects. That borough is Staten Island.
Staten Island is the epicenter in New York City for this years cicada hatch. The residents there get to bear witness to the inch-long insects playing out their three-week ritual of sex and death and listen to the beautiful soundtrack that accompanies it.
Not everyone is a huge fan of these insects but there are some die hard cicada fans out there like myself. For instance, Radiolab has teamed up John Cooley and professor Chris Simon from the University of Connecticut Ecology & Evolutionary Biology department to obtain data for a cicada tracker. Another admirer is David Rothenberg, a professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Rothenberg has been traveling the region performing live duets with a clarinet and a collection of male cicadas. The Staten Island Museum also hosted a singles-themed cicada party where they celebrated its cicada collection with a night of drinks, art, music and conversation inspired by the mating strategies of cicadas.
I don't want to miss my six-legged friends brief visit so it looks like I'm going to venture to Staten Island in order to hear their songs of love and/or lust. It is only a matter of time before they die and if I don't catch them now I will have to wait another seventeen years to hear their children produce such wonderful sounds of magic.
For more information about cicadas you can access these articles and more through Academic Search Premier, available at all library locations or at home with your NYPL library card:
You can also check out these children's books on cicadas:
Cicadas! Strange and Wonderful by Laurence Pringle
Cicadas by Anne O. Squire
Cicadas and Aphids: What They Have in Common by Sara Swan Miller
Download a free a track from David Rothenberg's CD Bug Music: