Brood X Magicicada Day 3
News Category: Cicada Missions
Brood X Magicicada Day 3
Sunday morning started out cloudy and cool. I was up around 6:00am. After saying my goodbye's and thanking my sister for letting me stay to experience the Cicadas I was in my car and on the road by 7:00am. Since it was Sunday traffic was minimal. I figured I'd make good time so I again decided that I would stop at a few rest areas in Pennsylvania to see if I could see or hear any evidence of Magicicadas along I-81. Unfortunately there were none.
I had my coffee cup container full of Cicadas and I periodically checked inside to see if all was ok. Unfortunately one or two already seemed to have died over night.
I like to listen to all kinds of music and noticed that the little M. septendeculas seemed to enjoy it as well. The males were calling for females among the chaos of the other Cicadas. I could hear them scratching and crawling over each other and even a M. septendecim male or two let out a short vocal alarm.
The calling of the M. septendeculas in the coffee cup continued all the way home to Massachusetts where I arrived at my house around 3:00 pm. I made exceptionally good time.
Kim listened intently while I told her all about my weekend in West Virginia. I told her how I was "in my glory" at finally being able to experience the Magicicadas and that I was extremely happy that I went there despite the bad weather.
I transferred the Cicadas to a mason jar so she could get a better look at them. She seemed visibly repulsed and nauseated by them. It was now time for me to get some decent pictures, video and sound files of these Magicicadas before they perished.
First thing I did was obtain a lilac branch from my yard for them to climb on. I started with one of each species (M. septendecula and M. septendecim), both males. If you notice, the image on the left shows the M.septendecim climbing its way up the branch. The picture was snapped while it was moving the legs, that is why the legs look blurry.
The image on the left shows the definite size difference between the M. septendecula and M. septendecim with M. septendecim being the largest of the three species. A quick way to identify a M. septendecim Magicicada from the other 17 year species is the dark burgundy patch behind the eyes on either side of the head just in front of the forewing hinges. The other Magicicada species do not have this burgundy patch. Both the male Cicadas climbed to the very top of the lilac branch and were both struggling for purchase.
As I was studying the antics of the two male Cicada's the smaller M. septendecula decided that it would find a mate as it did when it was in the container on the drive home from West Virginia. It started calling. Click on the thumbnail to the left to hear the call. Note: you may have to turn the volume up on your computer speakers. Just when it finished calling the other male M. septendecula picked up where the first one left off. You can also hear fluttering of all the Cicadas that were in the container.
While taking pictures, I noticed that my two subjects were attempting to use their mouth parts to withdraw juices from the branch that they were on. Since dehydration was a concern from their long 500 mile drive to Massachusetts, not to mention the hot lights they were under, I decided to get a live lilac branch for them to feed upon.
The mouth part is quite rigid. I liken this to a sort of hollow tube similar to a straw that the Cicada inserts into the branch. It is actually known as a "beak". The beak is used to tap into the xylem of a branch to obtain nutrients in the form of carbohydrates for energy and water. The water is believed to be used for evaporative cooling (sweating) on hot summer days. When the beak is not in use, it simply lays flat along the underside of the thorax between the Cicada's legs.
Once the males were done receiving sustenence, I decided to let the females out onto the lilac branch for photos and allow them the opportunity to feed.
I was surprised to discover that two of the M. septendecim females were not really interested in feeding. Studying them closer, I noticed that they immediately started to navigate around the branch searching for an ideal spot. Once a spot was found, they moved underneath the branch and immediately started ovipositing. The female's ovipositor is a long blade-like structure located at the base of the abdomen and is used to cut slits along the sides of branches in which eggs are deposited. The ovipositor is thrust deep into the liliac branch.
The urge to lay eggs is paramount to insure the continuation of the species and is apparently an extremely stressful time for the female periodical cicada. If you notice in the above images, during the process of laying eggs, this female actually broke off portions of a mid and hind-leg and is actually supporting itself up-side-down with the use of its remaining four legs. Since it was not interested in feeding I can only assume that the breaking of the legs may be a result of dehydration.
The majority of female cicadas lay their eggs in this fashion, that is they hang up-side-down underneath a branch about the size of a pencil and deposit their eggs in these slits. When the nymphs hatch, they immediately drop to the ground due to gravity and burrow in the soil. If you click the thumbnail to the left, you will be able to see a short video of a female cicada ovipositing in a lilac branch. Note how its abdomen undulates as it lays eggs and the struggle to maintain its position on the branch while only being supported on four legs. You will here a male M. septendecula still calling for a mate in the container. The flapping noises you here are the cicadas getting restless inside the container. Finally, note in the background of the video a second female M. septendecim laying its eggs in the same lilac branch. Once this female laid its eggs it only lived for a few more hours then died thus completing the lifecycle of the Magicicada for another 17 years.
These females in laying their eggs in this lilac branch opened up some rather compelling questions:
- Did they mate with a male prior to capture and if so, what is the time period between mating and the actual laying of the eggs?*
- Did these females mate with the males in the container on the way home from West Virginia? I definitely did not here the male M. septendecims calling for females while in the container unlike the male M. septendeculas.
- Do female Magicicadas still go through the process of laying eggs purely on instinct without mating because the urge to lay eggs is so overwhelming?*
These and other questions warrant further study. I hope to be able to answer these questions in 2008 when Brood XIV is scheduled to hit southeastern Massachusetts. Unfortunately, like the sparse appearance of Brood X on Long Island, NY in 2004 I fear that Brood XIV in 2008 may experience the same fate due to the constant expansion of the human race in the development of areas slated for the Magicicada to appear.
It should be noted that some of the cicadas captured survived for several days. Once they died, they did not go to waste as I donated them and the lilac branch to UMASS Amherst's Organismic and Evolutionary Biology & Entomology Department for further study.
I hope you have enjoyed this small dedication and study of the 17 Year Periodical Cicada from Brood X. These pages are a result of an entire lifetime of secret fascination for these Cicadas with the fiery red eyes.
Since Brood X has really sparked my interest in Cicadas again and also discovering the many adult cicada enthusiasts online by the myriad different Cicada sites out there, I have recently changed my feelings of how silly I'd look at my age trying to obtain these insects. I intend to try to obtain some Tibicen nymphs as they emerge from the ground this summer and document what I can about them.
*Chris Simon - Professor; Editor of Systematic Biology, University of Connecticut - Magicicada females lay eggs usually within two days of mating. If the female is unmated, it will lay sterile eggs after about two weeks (depending on weather conditions; the warmer they are, the faster they will age). Many Thanks Chris!!