Cicada Killers Part 1
News Category: Cicada Projects
Cicada Killers Part 1
Professor Chuck Holliday Pays a Visit.
For the last several years I have been studying a cicada killer lek at a place called "Pine Grove" Cemetery in Westford, MA. Back in 2005, I met 3 fellas that worked for the town's Cemetery Department. That was how I found out about Pine Grove.
Needing to learn more about Cicada Killers, I found Professor Chuck Holliday of Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Through many back-and-forth emails over several years, I have learned much about cicada killers thanks to Chuck. I have been reporting to Chuck my observations of the cicada killers at this lek and I even sent him some cicada killer-stung cicadas last year.
Since this first lek at Pine Grove, I have managed to find three additional ones around Massachusetts. One of them is thanks to a person from Groton, MA. who found my web site and reported it through the Report Cicadas and Cicada Killers form. I found additional leks in Montague, MA at the Montague Plains Wildlife Management area. This is also the place where I discovered Okanagana rimosa this year. Finally, I discovered a 4th Cicada killer Lek in Swansea MA, just a few weeks ago while I was surveying the area for cicada species.
Over the winter, Chuck told me that he was planning a series of trips around the United States starting out west to try to obtain Cicada Killer females with their stung cicada prey. Chuck wanted to put Massachusetts on his itinerary due to all the information that I have been supplying him at the Pine Grove Cemetery lek.
Below is an account of Chuck's visit over two days starting August 16th and ending on August 17th. I know the time seems short but we got a lot done.
First Stop, Pine Grove Cemetery
Chuck called me when he arrived at the Minuteman Campground on August 15th. We made arrangements then to meet at 6:30 the following morning. We wanted to get an early start.
When we arrived it was very cool and the sprinkler system (which was newly installed) was just turned off so the ground was soaking wet all around the lek. Chuck seemed happy though because we were finding many burrows. As the day wore on and the sun got higher in the sky, things started to heat up and the Cicada Killer males and females were becoming active.
Chuck Comes Bearing Gifts.
Chuck had asked me if prior to his visit if I would collect approximately 40 male specimens from the Pine Grove Cicada Killer lek. I of course said yes. He mentioned something about doing a dry weight survey of the general male population but the reasoning now escapes me. I had the specimens divided up via the different days that I caught them. I didn't know how important it was but I thought it would be prudent. When I handed the specimens to him he was real appreciative.
He also had cicada specimens that he collected from out west and also from around Pennsylvania where he is from. Its always great to get additional cicada specimens. These specimens will make a great addition to the on-going distribution mapping project. Click the thumbnail below for a larger view of the specimens that I received:
- Top Row Left to Right - Diceroprocta cinctifera, Platypedia putnami, Diceroprocta semicincta
- Bottom Row Left to Right - Tibicen chloromerus, Tibicen duyri, Tibicen linnei
One of the first cicadas that was brought in by a cicada killer was a very rare female T. lyricen var. engelhardti cicada. While this is not a true subspecies, it is believed that there is a supressed gene in these cicadas which causes them to be almost entirely black, contain no green coloring on the thorax with just an "anchor-shaped" light brown patch on the pronotum. Click the thumbnail to the left for a look at this unusual specimen. We spent 6 hours here and met the Town Cemetery Department supervisor who was excellent despite the fact that he didn't know exactly when we were coming. He left the office opened so that we could use the phone and the facilities whenever we wanted.
With only 6 hours work, we netted 20 cicada killer females WITH their stung cicada prey!! Unfortunately, we heard very few cicadas calling and what we did hear was only T. canicularis. In fact, the Cicada Killer females brought in 19 T. canicularis cicadas and only that one T. lyricen mentioned above.
Next Stop Groton, MA
Due to the success at the Pine Grove Cemetery, we decided to check out that other Lek reported by a reader of this site that submitted a cicada killer sighting report. It was pretty close by and after I got permission, we headed over there. Unfortunately this area no longer contained any male cicada killers whatsoever. There were still some females maintaining their burrows and out hunting cicadas. It was very hot by now well into the 90's but surprisingly we heard no cicadas calling.
We ended up getting an additional 10 female cicada killers along with their paralyzed prey which again all were T. canicularis.
About two weeks ago when I was at this site, the Cicada Killer females were bringing in both T. lyricen and T. canicularis. It would seem that in the beginning the females bring in T. lyricen (because they emerge first in greater numbers) then towards the end, the Cicada Killers bring in T. canicularis as that is what is available because that species emerges in greater numbers during the mid to late summer months. I will further hypothesize that the cicada killer larva that get the larger T. lyricen cicadas will generally be larger as well.
The End Result.
In addition to catching female cicada killers with their paralyzed cicadas, Chuck also netted some individual cicada killer specimens also for weighing. We ended up with a pretty good haul for this day without much time spent either. Click the thumbnail to the left for a closer look. The cicada killers we caught are the ones with the paralyzed cicada next to it. The top row actually contains male cicada killers (to the left) and some female cicada killers (right) from Easton Pennsylvania where Chuck teaches.
Chuck was gracious enough to treat me to dinner. We used that time to talk about cicada killers and cicadas and life as a college professor and other general things. We also decided that maybe we should check out the new cicada killer lek that I found in the town of Montague where I finally found the Okanagana rimosa's in June. I was curious to know if the cicada killer females were perhaps bringing in any species of cicadas other than T. lyricen and T. canicularis.