Impending cicada swarm likely to miss Berkshire County
PITTSFIELD -- Next month, millions of bugs will emerge from the ground, fill the air with a loud, low buzz and leave corpses everywhere.
It's not the plot of a new science fiction or horror movie; it's the return of the 17-year Brood II cicada. However, researchers say the bugs won't be present in large numbers in Berkshire County, if at all.
Found only in the United States east of the Mississippi River, cicadas are periodical insects that use a "counting" method to determine when to burrow up from underground and surface as an entire population.
Typically living in darkness underground, feasting on the fluids of trees, bushes and shrubs, the flying insects only rise to the surface at the end of their lives to mate, then nearly instantly die.
Gerry Bunker, a Massachusetts-based independent cicada researcher and creator of the Massachusetts Cicadas website, told The Eagle this re-emergence is a rare treat for bug enthusiasts and anyone wanting to learn more about insects.
According to the data collected 17 years ago, the Brood II, which dictates the geographic location of the particular cicada, stretches from Northern Virginia to the Hudson Valley in New York.
Although most research suggests this particular cicada won't emerge in Massachusetts, Bunker said it's very possible the Berkshires could see thousands of them. During the last emergence, the Brood II was found just across the New York border by the thousands.
If that particular group was able to find a mate and create the next generation, avoid being wiped out by any land development or any predators, then it's possible, Bunker said, that the Berkshires could see cicadas.
"We really don't know if they're there or in what numbers," he said. "It's exciting, because there's a great unknown."
John Cooley, a cicada researcher at the University of Connecticut, thinks the cicadas might not come out in droves here.
"Brood XIV is the brood with a big presence in Massachusetts, toward Cape Cod," he said. "I'd be stunned if they really were in Pittsfield. My guess is that up in the Connecticut River Valley, they don't make it to Hartford."
It may not be as beautiful a scientific viewing as a meteor, but researchers say seeing the Brood II cicadas is a marvel that shouldn't be, and in many cases, can't be missed.
In areas of high Brood II cicada population, such as New Jersey and New York City, there'll be between 150,000 and 1 million cicadas per acre, Bunker said.
"All these insects are developmentally synchronized. It's believed they mark time by sap flow and count the number of times to know when to emerge," he said. "Because of this synchronization, they come out in massive numbers. And although predators may eat many of them, eventually they'll be overwhelmed, oversatiated, and whatever is left are able to mate to carry on the brood for the next 17 years."
As ground temperatures rise past 65 degrees along the southeast coast of the country, the bugs will begin to emerge, possibly as early as next week.
If any are still alive, they're not expected in the Berkshires until sometime between May 15 and May 30, Bunker said.
With funding from the National Geographic Society, Cooley, the researcher at the University of Connecticut, has attempted to trace the insects' evolutionary history dating back to the last ice age.
According to Cooley, the species' choice of habitats and when they emerge could give new details in how the world's climate has changed.
"We know that they've had to change in the past because of postglacial forests that exist now," Cooley told National Geographic. "If scientists understand how cicadas once responded to climate change, then they can imagine how another episode of global warming might impact both cicadas and other insects."
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All the buzz ...
Scientific name: Magicicada
Size: 0.9 to 1.3 inches
Life cycle: 13 to 17 years underground, 2 months above ground while mating
Trivia: Cicadas do not bite or sting, instead feeding on plant sap. While underground in their developmental stage, they feed off the fluids from tree roots. Adult cicadas have a unique survival mechanism -- predator satiation. Because so many emerge at once, an area's predators fill up on them, leaving the rest to breed.
Source: Eagle wire services
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