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Invasion of the Bugs

Cicadas appear in the Midwest

By Karen Fanning | null null , null

Billions of cicadas are expected to swarm Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana over the next couple of weeks.  (Photo: Daniel Hulshizer/AP Images)

May 24, 2007

They don't bite, and they don't sting, but they can sure make a racket. After 17 years underground, the first groups of periodical cicadas appeared this week in the Midwest, and residents there are bracing for the noisy invasion.

Over the next couple of weeks, billions of the red-eyed bugs, known as Brood XIII, are expected to swarm Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana.

"It's one of the greatest insect emergences on Earth," Daniel Summers, of The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, told the Associated Press.

Cicadas are harmless to humans, but their buzzing can be downright maddening. The pesky critters are best known for their mating calls, which can reach 90 decibels—the noise level of a kitchen blender.

Uninvited Guests

Some residents fear the cicadas' deafening symphony might spoil their wedding plans and graduation parties.

In Illinois, the Ravinia Festival will move some of its concerts indoors, and has postponed its lineup of classical musicians until later this summer. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, however, will perform as scheduled.

"With 350 voices on stage, they can hold their own against the bugs," said festival president and chief executive officer Welz Kauffman.

Not everyone is dreading the cicadas’ arrival. The protein-rich bugs are a favorite snack of birds, squirrels, and dogs.

"They're going to have quite a meal," said Tom Tiddens of the Chicago Botanic Garden. "It's going to be like Thanksgiving for them."

Out and About

Periodical cicadas spend most of their lives underground, surviving on the sap of tree roots. When they are mature enough, they come to surface to mate.

Most members of Brood XIII will emerge within a couple of days of each other. This means that in some densely forested areas, as many as 1.5 million cicadas will crowd onto a single acre.

Once above ground, the bugs will promptly find the nearest tree trunk or plant stem. There, they will molt, or shed their skins, and become winged adults. Once the cicadas mate and lay their eggs, their days are numbered. The average life span of an adult cicada is just 30 to 40 days.

Despite all the uproar over the cicadas, people like Hedner Sanches of Peoria, Illinois, choose to look at the bright side.

"It's wonderful," he said. "It's a sign that summer is here."

Critical Thinking Question

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About the Author

Karen Fanning is a contributing writer for Scholastic News Online.

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