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Cicada’s Guide to Cyclical Romance

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The moment has arrived.

After years of living underground, periodic cicadas (insects of the genus Magicicada) are emerging in their trillions Across more than a dozen states Molt, sing, court and mate. A casual human listener might mistake their collective chorus for the sound of a UFO landing:

But for individual cicadas, the ongoing courtship ritual is as intimate and complex as a tango. The stakes are high; the potential for mistakes are many.


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This year, in a rare “double emergence,” two groups of periodic cicadas emerged: the 13th generation, or Northern Illinois cicada, which in some locations includes as many as three species of 17-year-old cicadas, and the 19th generation Cicada, the big cicada. Southern cicadas consist of up to four species of 13-year cicadas. Their songs – like those of Magicicada septendecim and Magicicada neotredecim below – can sound very similar:


Arrive early (approximately)

Female cicadas usually only mate once, so males are expected to emerge as early as possible and thus frantically climb from the soil to the tops of trees. But not too soon: The first cicadas to reach the top are ripe for the slaughter when “everything is hungry and predators discover they are the best thing to eat,” biologists and periodic cicada experts say David Marshall said.

Once what ecologists call “predator saturation” occurs, the chances of a second wave of reproduction increase. “You want to be Johnny on the spot,” Dr. Marshall said. “If you’re late, you’re really screwed.”

nude

Once you emerge, it may take you a few days to adjust to life on earth. Instantly you’ll molt, squeeze out of your nymphal exoskeleton, and spread your wings; slowly, you’ll solidify and turn a glossy black. Soon, when the air warms and the sun shines, the males will sing.

Beat your eardrums

The male cicada is an enlarged beer can. The belly is hollow, with a membrane called the eardrum on either side, not unlike a woofer: vibrate it, and the sound travels out. To change the frequency, change the shape and position of your abdomen.


Sing a little, fly a little

The courtship process is broadly divided into three stages, each with an associated song specific to a particular species. Initially, the male will sing a short, seductive phrase several times, fly a foot or two, land and sing again. “He uses his voice to provoke receptive females,” Dr. Marshall said. M. tredecim’s song is a trill that turns into what scientists call a downbeat when the male flexes its abdomen downward, sounding like a Inverted question mark: bzzz-ewwwww.


Stop, look and listen

Most females will not accept a male’s advances; they are either already mated or not physiologically ready. In males, watch for subtle wing flaps, little shrugs of potential interest. Eventually, the sounds turned into the loud and distinct snap of her wings.

In the meantime, be careful of the Butinsky that lands nearby. Competing males emit interfering buzzes, like this one from M. tredecim: this is an ambiguous version of the invitation phrase, which interferes with the first male’s call, causing the female to ignore him and prompting him to become discouraged Fly away in despair.


Come closer now

If the female shows interest—if she breaks her wings within about half a second of the male’s invitation—the male should approach and switch to the next song. This song is similar to the first, but is presented in a rapid series with no gaps between phrases.


Business hours

Until this moment it had been held limb by limb, but now the male may reach out and touch the female gingerly, perhaps close to the eyes, as he switches to his final song, a series of staccato notes. Let the real mating begin (and give it three to five hours to wrap up).

Dr. Marshall points out that through it all, the female has only one job: “Don’t mate with the wrong species.” With the various beer cans clinking, perhaps physically transmitting the song reassures the female that she has chosen One last great way to get your brand right.


Oh, and avoid zombies too!

When cicadas first burrow in the soil, some encounter cicadas with abundant spores of a fungus that can turn cicadas into Sex-crazed, spore-filled zombies Intent to mate and spread infection. Woe to the person who falls victim to the scam, Dr. Marshall said: “He will be the next generation of unfortunate spore spreaders.”

a happy ending

In four to six weeks, it will all be over, with spent cicada carcasses strewn across the dance floor, a rotting stench in the air, and tiny nests of cicada eggs filling the trees. In another six to ten weeks, the eggs will hatch and the tiny nymphs will drop to the ground, burrow, find rhizomes to sip from, and wait. See you in 13.17 years!

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