The 17-year cicadas have officially emerged and made their temporary home in Wildwood State Park in Wading River.
“Our very own brood is alive and well,” said Elias Bonaros Jr., 43, a cardiologist from Bayside who has been studying cicadas since 1991. Bonaros first spotted — and heard — this year’s group high in Wildwood’s trees Tuesday, where they remained as of Friday.
Experts call groups of cicadas that emerge at the same time “broods.” The periodic cicadas, known for their distinctive whistle, spend years in the ground growing, crawling and waiting until the earth warms enough to signal their debut.
The group of insects are Suffolk County natives, last seen in 1999. Technically part of Brood V, a group that emerges in Ohio and West Virginia, they are geographically distinct and are dubbed Brood V Long Island. The isolated population traveled here with a moving glacial forest about 10,000 years ago, Chris Simon, a professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, said Friday.
Thus far, the cicadas in Long Island’s Brood V are isolated in Wildwood, though historically they’ve popped up further south into Calverton, to the east of Route 25A and north of Route 25. Their whirring call reached a moderate level Friday.
Fear not though: The bugs aren’t going to bother anyone, Simon said.
The Magicicada septendecim — the species that will be droning this summer — emerge for one reason: love.
Their above-ground life cycle is relatively short — just a few weeks, if birds don’t pick them off sooner — and their sole purpose is to find a mate and leave behind offspring that will develop underground and start the process again about 2033.
While their numbers are low, the brood is “definitely audible,” Bonaros said. When cicadas emerge, they molt, leaving behind shells. Bonaros found at least 100 of these discarded exoskeletons in the trees, but he could hear many more of the creatures.
The cicadas’ loud, infamous humming is a mating call of sorts, designed to attract potential partners. When the weather cooperates, visitors to the state park may hear a chorus of chirping males whose collective call sounds like a long whistle, Bonaros said.
Time will tell how long this group will stick around, though their slight numbers suggest no more than a few weeks — just long enough attract mates and hatch nymphs.
Experts are thrilled to see the critters, Simon said.
Simon, who co-authored a 1982 article on Long Island’s periodical cicadas, described the creatures as group-centric. They depend on a robust group to protect against predators and ensure a large population for the next emergence.
“I’m happy that we at least heard some already,” Simon said. “We were worried they were on their way out.”
They do not sting or bite humans, though they tend to chomp on twigs for food and nest their eggs in the outer limbs of “woody plants,” according to magicicada.org, a website dedicated to the species. Any damage to trees or bushes will be “negligible,” said Bonaros, because there are not enough cicadas to seriously affect hearty plants.
Brood V is known for its fiery coloring: It has a sleek black body, with vibrant orange veins and red eyes. This brood made a moderate showing in 1999 and has popped up in Suffolk since as early as 1923. The county’s most prevalent group, Brood XIV, arrived in full force in 2008 and researchers expect to see it again in 2025.
Certain parts of the county, including Bohemia, Shirley and Connetquot River State Park Preserve, braced for a Brood X invasion in 2004, but none of the underground travelers arrived — or the few that did were an easy dinner for birds and animals.
Cases of disappearance or diminishing numbers have no proven cause, though Bonaros and Simon pointed to population separation and land development.
“This is a rare phenomenon, right now,” Bonaros said. “This is an opportunity for citizen science.”