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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Eastern Iowa sees rare emergence of millions of noisy cicadas

Eastern Iowa sees rare emergence of millions of noisy cicadas

One of the experts in all things creepy-crawly who helps to run Iowa State University’s Insect Zoo just returned from a four-day road trip exclusively to study the rare, double-brood emergence of cicadas.

Ginny Mitchell, the ISU Insect Zoo’s education program coordinator, says the 13-year and 17-year cicadas are coming out of their underground burrows simultaneously, which only happens once in every 220 years.

“It was amazing, let me just say, because there were millions of the cicadas emerging all at the same time,” Mitchell says. “I would just pull over every 15 to 20 minutes and collect some samples, take some photos, take some videos, and then go on and repeat that throughout the four days that I was gone.”

(ISU entomologist Ginny Mitchell…with a friend.)

Mitchell says the 17-year cicadas can be found in northeastern Iowa along the Illinois border, while the 13-year cicadas are in southeastern Iowa, along the borders with Illinois and Missouri.

Their song can be almost deafening, as some estimates say there are perhaps trillions of the bugs emerging across the Midwest. “The music that they make is very, very loud,” she says, “and of course that is how they are finding their mate.”

The inch-long creatures that are appearing now are relatives of the ones that will start buzzing across the rest of Iowa within a few weeks.

“The cicadas are different than our ‘dog days’ cicadas, which some people call an annual cicada. They live underground for three years,” Mitchell says. “The 17- and 13-year cicadas are black and red, as opposed to the green-grayish-brown cicadas that we see here in Iowa every single year.”

Another difference in the three-year versus the 13- and 17-year cicadas is what time of day they choose to make themselves known.

“The ‘dog days’ cicadas, we’ll start seeing those in July,” Mitchell says. “And they sing a lot at night. These 13- and 17- year cicadas, they sing all day long. If the sun is up, they are singing. Then as soon as it gets dark, unless it’s a full moon because they’ll also sing during the full moon.”

On her road trip, Mitchell says she collected hundreds of both 13- and 17-year cicadas, including adults and nymphs. She plans to cook, yes, cook a variety of them for visitors to sample during the ISU Insect Zoo’s “Bug Village” event on August 24th. It will also feature a class called Insect Collecting 101, a Bug Costume Contest, and more than 150 species of living arthropods on display, with plenty of hands-on opportunities.

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