T. tibicen in Connecticut
News Category: Cicada Missions
T. tibicen in Connecticut
Update 3/25/11: - The species name Tibicen chloromera Tibicen tibicen has officially been changed to Tibicen tibicen.. This article has been edited to reflect that change.
For some time now it has been documented that the northern most range of Tibicen chloromera Tibicen tibicen cicadas is in southwestern Connecticut, Fairfield County to be exact. With the help of Mike Neckerman, a fellow cicada colleague who lives in Connecticut, he has assured me that the documented range is and forever shall be wrong. The reason he knows its wrong is that he grew up in a part of Connecticut, Wethersfield which is in Hartford County and spent his childhood, like myself catching this species of cicada.
Who the Heck is Mike Neckermann?
John Cooley of the University of Connecticut in Storrs needed help to confirm whether or not Brood XI Magicicadas (Periodical Cicadas) was indeed extinct or not. He needed help with covering areas of Massachusetts where they were last reported. So naturally, yours truly offered to lend a hand in covering the western part of Massachusetts. Enter Mike Neckermann who posted a message on the Cicadamania message board so I emailed him.
Together we covered Franklin and Hampshire counties but alas Brood XI was not to be found. Personally, this is one of the greatest mysteries as far as periodical cicadas go. There is a lot of untouched areas of western Massachusetts and it doesn't make any sense that they should be extinct. The only conclusions that people have been able to come to is that perhaps Brood XI never did exist in these areas but rather what was reported was an unusually heavy emergence of the Okanagana species of cicadas which are often confused for Periodical Cicadas.
But I digress. Mike Neckermann, like myself has been fascinated with cicadas since he was a small boy and has amassed a great deal of knowledge on the subject. Roughly my age, he has a great sense of humor and a quick wit that keeps me constantly laughing.
In addition to his interest in cicadas he also likes to catch photograph and study Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths) and also has a great deal of knowledge of these as well. I was amazed that he could look at a butterfly or moth and immediately know what it was.
Skepticism Breeds Optimism
At first I was very skeptical in regards to Mike's report. After all, I didn't know Mike from a hole in the wall so admittedly I took his report with a grain of salt. After all, the distribution maps can't be wrong can they? Heck no!!
What I was actually interested in was information on other species of cicadas in New England. After all, Massachusetts has only two species of Tibicens here so I was hoping to discover different calling sounds from different cicadas in New England. It gets rather boring after awhile when you constantly hear the same two species here in Massachusetts, namely Tibicen lyricen and Tibicen canicularis.
Update 3/25/11: - Actually, after the writing of this article, the following species of cicadas have been documented by Massachusetts Cicadas:
- Tibicen auletes
- Tibicen canicularis
- Tibicen lyricen
- Tibicen tibicen
- Okanagana rimosa
- Magicicada septendecim
Suffice it to say Mike promised that one day, he would invite me to the places he used to go when he was a boy to collect T. chloromera T. tibicen cicadas. I of course held him to that. Hence my trip on August 11th, 2005.
Time to Head South
I left my house here in North Chelmsford, MA at 6:30 am. Its about a hundred miles from my house to Mike's. After getting hopelessly lost trying to find Mike's house in Columbia, Connecticut (there's no street signs on most streets!!) and getting help over the phone from his dad, I finally made it there at 8:30 am.
After all the preliminary introductions, we got in Mike's car and off we went.
First Stop Wethersfield High School
Wethersfield is actually a suberb of the city of Hartford. It lies south and east of the city and is 25 miles from Columbia Connecticut where Mike lives. Just prior to reaching the high school Mike indicated that now that we were in Wethersfield, we should roll the windows down. It was already hot and in the high 80's so we had the AC on. When I opened the window let me tell you Wethersfield was alive and kicking with the sound of T. chloromera T. tibicen!
I couldn't believe it! There was that sound that reminded me of summers growing up in Baltimore, Md. so long ago. What is really amazing is that this place is just two hours from my house. That these T. chloromera T. tibicen can be so close but yet so far from where I am in Massachusetts. What's really amazing is that T. chloromera T. tibicen was not heard where Mike lives at all and he is so close to Wethersfield.
When we reached the high school I was amazed at how many there were here. They were the dominant species. Yes, there were Tibicen lyricen and Tibicen canicularis cicadas calling as well but they were nothing compared to T. chloromera T. tibicen.
Here are a few sound files that I took. I apologize for their quality as they don't do justice to the actual decible level we experienced while actually being there. You may have to turn up the volume on your speakers.
Mike and His Fancy Net
Mike decided he was going to catch a few specimens for study. He pulled out this fancy net that had different poll extinsions. Each poll was approximately 24 inches long. With these polls he was able to extend the reach of his net by at least 10 feet or more. Almost immediately he managed to snag two female T. chloromera T. tibicen specimens. The males seemed to be very hard to come by.
Until we heard, then saw a T. chloromera T. tibicen male calling on the ground. At the time, we couldn't figure out why this male was on the ground but that became apparent after we caught it with the net. This male had a damaged forewing. It looked like it was ripped in places due to a predator which it must've narrowly escaped.
If I was smart, I should've recorded the calling song but I was way too excited to see it on the ground and before I could even think, it was in Mike's net. I did manage to record the alarm squawk that most male cicadas make when captured. They usually do this in the hopes that it will startle a predator into dropping them and letting them go. Click the link below.
Next Stop, Down Memory Lane
After collecting the three T. chloromera T. tibicen specimens, we drove to other areas in Wethersfield where we could hear T. chloromera T. tibicen when Mike was a boy. But it was more like going down the avenues and vistas of his memory. Here is where he went to grammer school; where that company is over there used to be a big field where there were tons of cicadas and other insects.
Eventually, we ended up at Mike's old house where he used to live. He showed me a row of pine trees where he used to look for disgarded nymphal skins. Some were still there today.
Across the street is where his grandmother used to live. But now he doesn't know who lives there. We did notice the unusual sign hanging in the door though. Click the thumnail to the left which is there today and see if you can imagine who lives there.
You Learn Something New Every Day - Unusual Cicada Behavior
I took all three specimens that we collected at Wethersfield High School and put them in the same jar. Later on when we were driving I started to hear some racket in the back seat. The male was squawking for a bit and when I took the jar out and had a look inside I saw that the male was mating with one of the females! This is a first for me because I have never witnessed in my entire life Tibicen cicadas mating in captivity before.
They stayed locked together for well over an hour. In the meantime, I noticed that the other T. chloromera T. tibicen female (you know what they say about being a "third wheel") seemed to be trying to mate with one of the exuvia that I had collected and also had in the same jar. Note the picture to the left. I had plenty of sticks for them to rest on but all three were in the bottom of the jar even the female that wasn't mating with the male. I removed the sticks in order to take the picture to the left. The cicada to the extreme left is of the female trying to mate with the exuvia, the cicada at the top is of the female, the cicada at the bottom is of the male.
I so wished I was watching these cicadas after I put them in the jar. I wanted to witness the pair formation ritual prior to mating. But alas, I wasn't expecting any hanky-panky to be going on in the jar so I missed it.
Time to Track The Brood
After leaving Mike's old house we decided to see just how far north Tibicen chloromera's Tibicen tibicen's range is. We decided to stay in the vicinity of the Connecticut River and we made it as far as Bloomfield, Connecticut which is north of the city of Hartford on route 189. But with all our dilly-dallying along the way, we ran out of time. It seems that between noon time and one pm, Tibicen chloromera Tibicen tibicen stops calling. Its almost as if a light switch is turned off so we couldn't hear any more chorusing.
Along Route 189 There's This Tunnel...
We stopped on the side of the road on route 189. It was an area right next to what I am assuming was the Connecticut river. Since it was along a major water way and we have always been taught to "follow the water" when tracking cicadas we decided to give this area a try. Unfortunately, we really didn't hear anything.
Mike and I discovered this creepy tunnel about 50 yards long that ran completely under Route 189. The floor of the tunnel was covered in about 6 inches of packed dirt. Clearly this is a path that has been well traveled. But it was still kind of creepy. We entered the tunnel, I yelled to Mike. When he turned around, I snapped the below picture. Inside the tunnel was very cool and was a welcomed relief from the heat.
Cicada Killers in Mike's Old Town
On our way back to Wethersfield Connecticut, I was talking to Mike about the unusual Cicada Killer wasps that I was studying in Westford, Ma. this year. Well, it just so happened that he remembered a report from about 10 years ago that was written in the local newspaper where these neighbors were concerned because their neighborhood seemed to be overrun with them.
I indicated to Mike that if Cicada Killers like a certain area, then they will return every year. So we went to investigate. Sure enough when we got to the proper street, which he recalled totally from memory I might add, the Cicada Killers were still there even after 10 years!!
Though its probably considered late in the season now for Cicada Killers, we counted 10 active burrows. I even discovered a paralized Tibicen chloromera Tibicen tibicen which looked like it was abandoned outside a burrow of one of the Cicada Killer females. The cicada looked like it was there for quite a while because it was very stiff. Even after a female Cicada Killer stings a cicada, it can remain fresh for 10 days or more. This one was clearly there longer than that.
I was explaining to Mike about the behaviors of cicada killers and how they sting cicadas and take them back to their burrows, even the orienting behavior that I have witnessed many times in the past. I was glad to note that one of the females was exhibiting this very same behavior. Mike was able to get it on camera. I unfortuantely, could not snap any images of the cicada killers themselves but I did take pictures of their burrows. Then for the first time, as quick as lightning Mike witnessed a Cicada killer bring a cicada back to its burrow, a first for him.
Interesting On-The-Road Experiment
Up to this point the male T. chloromera T. tibicen was still mating with the first female. I took the female that was trying to mate with the exuvia out of the jar and transferred it to a separate container. I wanted to see what would happen to the male when it finished mating with the first female. After mating with the first female, I transferred the male to the second container with the unmated female. Sure enough, the male was still "good-to-go" and proceeded to mate with the second female. Though this second time, it only mated for about half an hour.
Shortly thereafter the second female died while on the ride home back to Massachusetts and the male died an hour or two after I got home. Which is something I don't quite understand and will have to ask questions about. I was under the impression that males die shortly after mating then the females live a few days longer. Long enough to lay their eggs in a branch of a tree then they die shortly after that. Maybe it was because they were in the jar all day long that put undue stress on them.
Though I did create the conditions to notice this unusual behavior this male should consider itself extremely lucky. After all, it couldn't fly so its range was pretty limited, it would've been doubtful that it could've successfully mated with a female in the wild before it was preyed upon by a ground predator. In this way, it got to mate with two females instead of just one before it died. Maybe with all the excitement its heart just gave out.
Back in Wethersfield, CT.
Mike and I made several stops at various places in Wethersfield. One place was Wolcott Hill Road behind some businesses. Mike said before the businesses were there this area was nothing but trees as far as the eye could see. We did find many exuvia in this area and also a female T. chloromera T. tibicen on a low branch. We did attempt to catch it but it flew off.
Another place we went was a cemetery in Old Wethersfield. I can't remember the name of it, maybe it was the Old Wethersfield Cemetery or something like that. This area too was loaded with exuvia. We even found a dead male T. chloromera T. tibicen on a headstone. I explained to Mike that it probably died after mating. Which opened up a can of worms when I explained what I remembered reading about the lifecycles of cicadas. He still remains unconvinced and what we discussed is probably an issue devoted to a new page of this web site at a later time.
Back at Mike's House
We ended back at Mikes house around 5:30 pm. His family was just getting done with dinner. There was still plenty of food left and they invited me to stay. Who am I to turn down a free meal?
Mike's family is exceptional. I felt I got along with everyone especially Mike's father. We talked about virtually everything, from installing new windows to how to keep the bugs away from the little cracks that develop around your air conditioner.
You know the ones I'm talking about right? When the installation manual tells you you should tilt the air conditioner in the window slightly to allow for the water to drain out? What I have a problem with is those little gaps that appear around the AC unit after you tilt it. Mike's dad recommended in order to keep the bugs away, simply spray some mosquito repellant around the area of the cracks. That worked like a charm! Many thanks to Mike's dad!!
Another Quest for Knowledge
After the trip, I came home and fired off an email to several experts in the field of Tibicen cicada behavior including mating. John Cooley responded with the below message:
I think that in captivity, the males are more willing to mate than the females, and if a bunch of cicadas are put together in a cage, the males will certainly give it a try. If the females are lethargic, they may not be able to fend the males off, and you may get a mating of sorts. But it's not a mating preceded by normal courtship behaviors. After all, good old Magicicada males will mate with acorns, shed skins, etc., -- or at least they will give it a try. When they are in close range, the stimulus seems to be visual, and when cicada males see another (even vaguely) cicada like object, they attempt a mating-- because under normal circumstances, the only cicada-like objects that would approach them would be receptive females.
An interesting response. I will have to repeat this experiment on my next trip to Connecticut. I could've sworn that perhaps the females were the aggressors because of the one female which seemed to me to be trying to mate with an exuvium in the jar. Not to mention the little alarm squawk the male made just prior to discovering it mating. Of course for now I will have to agree with John Cooley on the behavior.
I had a really great time with Mike in Connecticut. I plan on returning Thursday August 18th and with Mike, for another survey of T. chloromera's T. tibicen's range so stay posted. It was really great to catch and study T. chloromera T. tibicen cicadas once again. The last time I caught one was when I was just 10 years old. For some reason though, they seem a lot smaller than I remember from when I was a boy. But then again, my world has gotten a lot smaller as well as I grow older and the knowledge that I have gained grows more and more with each passing year.