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Rarely seen insects in Jasper County

Published: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 11:35 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 11:54 a.m. CDT
(Ty Rushing/Daily News)
Jasper County Conservation Office Naturalist Katie Cantu holds one of the millions of the rarely seen 17 year cicadas last week at Ashton Observatory near Baxter. Cantu says the cicada will only be around for a few more weeks and won’t return until 2031.

If you heard their distinguished tones recently, then you know that cicadas are back in full force. However, what you might not know is that these aren’t your typical cicadas.

“These are the 17-year cicadas,” Jasper County Conservation Naturalist Katie Cantu explained. “That means that their nymph, or larva stage, has been down in the ground, and they’re just emerging, making them one of the longest lived insects in the world.”

The cicadas live underground for 17 years, feeding off of tree root sap, before they emerge. When they do emerge, they come in full force. Cantu said literally millions of them come out when they exit the nymph stage.

According to her research, there can be a million and a half cicadas per acre, which amounts to almost 40,000 cicadas in one tree.

Cicadas have a very distinct look as well as sound.

“They’ve got bright red bulgy eyes. Their wings, the outline of their wings and the veins, it’s kind of a bright copper color, and they look a little bit different than the ones you see coming out every year,” Cantu said.

Cantu gave a brief summary on the cicadas’ life cycle.

“They crawl out of the ground up onto a tree, and they split open their old shell or their old skin, and they become an adult. They’re only adults for five to six weeks, so they’re only going to be around five to six weeks tops,” Cantu said.

“They mate, they lay eggs in the tree branches and then they die, but their eggs hatch, and these new nymphs come out. They drop down to the ground, burrow, and they are there for another 17 years.”

Cantu said they do this ritual to survive our ever changing climate, but why they do it for 17 years exactly is still a mystery.  She can explain how and why the cicadas are so noisy.

“Their singing, I guess, is a noise they make by rubbing together — it’s like two drums located on the sides of their body. They kind of vibrate those drums and they get this high pitched sound and their wings form kind of almost like a mega phone to project the sound out — which makes them so loud,” Cantu said.

She said male cicadas’ make the sounds as a mating call to attract females. If females find the male attractive, they fly towards the males and perform a maneuver called “the wing flick,” which the males can see and hear. They then chime in with the females to complete the courtship call. They also make the sound when startled.

Cantu suggests visiting any heavily wooded area in the county — cicadas’ seem to be especially fond of oak — to hear or see these creatures. Ashton Observatory west of Baxter currently has an abundance of the creatures.

“So it’ll be 2031 when they are out again. (You) don’t want to miss this, because it’ll be a long time until we see them again,” Cantu said.

Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at trushing@newtondailynews.com.

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