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Brood XIV Periodical Cicadas at Peak on Cape Cod

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Brood XIV Periodical Cicadas at Peak on Cape Cod

White eyed periodical cicada

Hey everyone. I just got back from the Cape today and if you plan on visiting Cape Cod to experience the Cicadas now is the time. I spent a part of the day in Northwest Sandwich adding data points to the Massachusetts distribution map.

Notice anything strange with the below image? Look closely there are differences that should be apparent compared to your normal garden-variety female M. septendecim. If you haven't noticed, let me tell you. This Magicicada has white eyes. Also, see the costal margin of the forewing? It is white also. This happens in perhaps one in 100,000 Magicicadas. It is due to a recessive gene that usually gives the Magicicadas its distinctive devil-red eyes and orange wing veins. While the gene is probably present in this specimen, it is being repressed giving it this unique appearance. More on how I obtained this specimen later.

White eyed Cicada

UCONN Storrs Researchers Pay a Visit.

I received an email a few days ago from David Marshall, Postdoctoral Research Associate at UCONN Storrs Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department. He wanted to visit Cape Cod with researchers Kathy Hill also of UCONN Storrs along with Ben Price and his girlfriend Louise both of University of Rhodes in South Africa. Dave wanted a really good place so that Ben and Louise could experience the cicadas "up-close-and-personal". I had a few ideas as to where to take them and so we made arrangements to meet up between 9:30 and 10:00 am today.

Screaming Choruses at France A Crane WMA.

Ok screaming may not be the right analogy but its close! I decided to take them to the Frances A Crane WMA on Rte 151E in Falmouth since I was here a few days ago with the reporter from Cape Cod Times. I figured it was a great spot because of the low vegitation. Also, it is away from the road so traffic noise would be at a minimum. We ended up at Parking Area 2. I need to tell you we were not disappointed! The Magicicadas here were very very loud.

Kathy Hill UC StorrsWe immediately got out of our cars and started to walk around taking note of the noise level. Dave and Kathy indicated that compared to other states in the country currently experiencing Brood XIV, this is "on-par". This is great news considering we only experience one of the three species of Magicicadas in the Northeast. It was so loud I couldn't even hear myself doing the simulated male call whistle as seen in this video. I ended up just doing simulated female wing flick responses by snapping my fingers and the males still came to me. The cicadas were flying every which way. We walked around for a while taking photographs and handling the cicadas. Click the thumbnail above and to the left. Kathy Hill has been doing Phylogeography research on cicadas of North America, New Zealand, Fiji and Australia.

Kathy Hill and David MarshallDavid Marshall.I started to record the chorusing with my little digital video camera and Dave ran to get some really cool high-tech recording equipment that included a microphone and "parabolic ear" which directs sound to the microphone. Whenever Dave is in the field you can never get him to stand still. Sorry for the blurry photos but Dave is a "man on a mission" and time is of the essence! As previously stated, Dave is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at UCONN Storrs. His particular areas of interest include Molecular systematics of cicadas, mating behavior and pair-forming, speciation, and a bunch of other cicada research interests. Click the thumbnails to the left and right above.

Ben and Louise University of RhodesBen Price from the University of Rhodes studies cicada systematics and is visiting UCONN this week to study their molecular analysis techniques. I asked Ben his thoughts on the periodical cicadas. "I've never seen so many cicadas in one place.", he said. "The cicadas of South Africa are very hard to catch."

Ben's girlfriend Louise, an oceanography student also at University of Rhodes is here to visit UCONN's Avery Point Campus to continue her studies. She didn't seem to be bothered in the least with the cicadas buzzing and flying around. She enjoyed them very much and handled them quite easily. I wish my girlfriend liked them!

Observations of Cicada Behaviors

Deformed female mating.After the UCONN group left, I decided to stay at Frances Crane WMA to take photos and observe and also take some video.

You may remember that I discussed briefly some of the mating behaviors between males and females. The mechanics of how males and females find each other is unique and involves a male call and a female wing-flick response. If you click the thumbnail above and to the left, you will see a mating pair of cicadas. The cicada with the deformed wings in the image is that of the female. Even with deformed wings, this female was still able to signal her receptiveness! Of course since it cannot fly, its ability to find a suitable location to lay its eggs, I would imagine would be a bit limited. Still though I have observed females ovipositing in very low foliage. If this one can escape predators it may find a suitable spot. Apparently even with deformed wings, the males drive to perpetuate its species is very strong.

While in other animals such as birds, plumage or special dances help to entice a female for mating, these sorts of "visual queues" don't seem to matter when it Cicadas visual queuescomes to Magicicadas.

Another interesting observation was that of a 2nd male trying to "hone in" or "break up" another mating pair of cicadas in order to mate with the female. This facinated me to no end. The thumbnail to the right shows a mating pair of Magicicadas with a 2nd male on the left trying to gain access to the female.

Other Strange Male Behaviors

Some males also seem to not follow the typical male periodical cicada behavior. I found an area where there were many females just kind of sitting around in a low bush and minding their own business. They didn't seem to be interested in the males because I observed no wing flick responses. Out of nowhere a male came flying in to this area, called once and then immediately attempted to copulate with a female that just wasn't interested. The male gave it the ole college try but in the end, the female just wasn't having it. This whole scenario happened so fast that I didn't have my camera with me so I missed filming it. It could be that the females observed had already mated which may account for their lack of interest.

In another area, I observed one male at first stage call with a female directly facing in front of him. I observed this male call to this female for over an hour without a single response from the female. The female was not interested. But the male was not deterred, it kept on singing over and over again. I ended up leaving them alone and wishing the male good luck.

In the future I will be better prepared with my camera to document these strange behaviors.

Lots of Ovipositing Going On

Ovipositing femalefemale magicicada laying eggsI also noticed many females depositing their eggs at the ends of pencil-sized branches. Their preferred plant seems to be anything like scrub oak or other plants that do not secrete a resin like pine trees. Females will not oviposit in these types of plants. In fact, it is probably the reason why Periodical cicadas have lasted on Cape Cod because of the readily available scrub oak trees.

Egg casesThe female has an ovipositor - a tube-like structure - with a serrated end that it uses to make slits in live wood in which to deposit eggs. A single female can make up to twenty slits in a branch and lay up to 600 eggs. This may seem a bit excessive but the mortality rates for viable eggs and to a lesser extent, the newly hatched nymphs is something like 98%.

Stranded at Frances A Crane WMA!

I had my computer plugged into an outlet in my Cicada Research Vehicle for mapping and a long period of time went by without the motor running. I was even in the truck for about 45 minutes taking videos of individual calling males. Unfortunately, since the computer was still plugged in it killed my battery. This was long after David Marshall and the others left. I didn't want to call them back for assistance so I phoned my good friend Lisa from Mashpee, Ma. to come and rescue me after a few hours of trying to get various local garages to come out.

White-eyed Cicada Found!

White-eyed female magicicada.While I was waiting for Lisa, I decided to walk along the west-bound side of Rte 151 so she wouldn't miss the turn-off to the parking area because its pretty well hidden. I bent down and beheld a white-eyed female M. septendecim! It was sitting on a young evergreen tree next to another cicada. Surprisingly it was easy to spot compared to the normal red eyed version. When one finds a white-eyed cicada they do tend to be female. Only 1 out of 10 would be male. Also, this genetic anomoly is slightly rarer to find in M. septendecim and is more common though rare also in M. cassini.

Lisa had her four year old son Dan with her. He seemed quite comfortable with the cicadas compared to the beginning of the emergence. If you remember this slide show, he wouldn't touch them with his hands, only with sticks or other objects. Now he seems to have graduated to handling them by their wings. He even showed me one he had in his pocket.

Dan with insect netDan and LisaAfter Lisa helped me with the truck, Dan was interested in several dragonflies flitting around. He tried desperately to catch them. "Gerry, can you catch dragonflies for me?", he asked. "Sure!", I said. "But I'll have to break out my secret weapon." I proceeded to go into the back of my truck and pulled out an official-looking insect net complete with extension poles. I succeeded in catching the dragonfly for him. "Can I try?" he asked. "Of course, just don't get close to the mud puddles, I don't want it to get dirty." The net was just about as tall as he was. After several tries Dan succeeded in catching a dragonfly. He proceeded to show his mother the prize that he captured.

Distribution Maps Updated.

As always the distribution maps have been updated. More data points have been added and some have actually changed from negatives to positives. While others went from false-positives to negatives. A big thanks goes out to Lisa for checking out the data point we received in Plymouth county a week ago. Unfortunately though it ended up being a negative. There are still no positive reports of cicadas from Plymouth County. If you have one, please report it.

Well in the end my day of mapping got cut really short. I ended up having to leave the Cape without doing much mapping today. I plan on coming back the weekend of the 21st of June but I'll be on Cape for about 5 days camping at Shawme-Crowell State Park in Sandwich, Ma.

I will be doing web site updates from the field.

Keep the Data Points Coming

Just because I'm going to be in the field for a few days doesn't mean you can slack off with sending in those data points. Please keep them coming. Remember to fill in the Report Cicadas form by clicking the big blue animated banner above with both positive and negative sightings. You can see that the distribution map for Cape Cod has greatly been covered. I will also be updating the maps from the field. I also want to thank those who have added multiple data points. Thanks very much for helping out, it is greatly appreciated.

So What'd I Miss?

If you are just finding out about this web site and the cool Brood XIV Periodical Cicadas, you can get caught up on previous updates by consulting the Missions section for 2008 or click to the beginning of the 2008 season which starts here. Be warned though! If you haven't noticed already, I like to write so be prepared to read!! There's lots of cool information.

Date Posted: 2008-06-18 Comments: (0) Show CommentsHide Comments


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