The soundtrack of summer could be deafening this year as millions of cicadas emerge from a 17-year slumber, entomologists and wildlife experts say.
The bug-eyed insects burrow out of earth every summer, but one genus, known as magicicada, awakes from a long slumber every 17 years. This year, the so-called Brood II is set to emerge almost simultaneously along the East Coast, from North Carolina to Connecticut.
Typically, the large broods appear in May or June, but experts predict the magicicadas could appear as early as late this month this year. The insects emerge from their slumber to mate, and male members of the genus gather in a "chorus" to attract females.
Locals might not see the cicadas, which can grow to about an inch and a half long, because they gather in large numbers on treetops. But they definitely can be heard. Up close, the insects produce a ticking sound that resembles the noise a baseball card makes when it's in the spokes of a moving bicycle tire. In the aggregate, when thousands upon thousands of cicadas gather, the result is a mating call that can sound like a resonant, booming whisper.
"You'll find them in the early summer. When they start to get going, to late summer they're really roaring," said Rod Christie, executive director at Bedford-based preserve Mianus River Gorge.
The squat, beetle-like insects are food for birds, squirrels and other small creatures. They're sometimes called locusts, but they're not true locusts, according to cicadamania.com, a website started by Dan Mozgai. The Canadian-based hobbyist first became interested in cicadas when he attended an outdoor wedding in New Jersey in 1996, the last time Brood II emerged.
This year's magicicadas are the offspring of the cicadas Mozgai heard at that outdoor wedding.
Along with tips for amateur cicada watchers and photographers hoping to capture images of the insects, Mozgai's site reassures gardeners and homeowners who are nervous about the damage thousands of cicadas can do to the plants or trees in their yard.
He recommends consulting with local tree care experts, placing protective netting around small trees and hosing down trees with water to keep the insects away.
Overall, cicadas don't pose a threat to most plants.
"Cicadas are interested in trees," Mozgai writes. "They can't kill a large elm, maple or oak. Where they can cause damage is to weaker ornamental flowering and fruit trees."
This year's Brood II is expected to emerge in large numbers throughout the Hudson Valley, according to Daniel Gilrein, an entomologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. Nature lovers, he said, should plan expeditions late next month and early June for their best shot at seeing and hearing large numbers of the insects.
Cicadas emerge when the ground temperature reaches 64 degrees. Ambient temperatures in the Hudson Valley reach that mark in early May, and typically it takes a week or two for ground temperatures to match the ambient temperature, News12 meteorologist Joe Rao said.
Rao, who lives in Putnam County, said the cicadas are part of a larger summer chorus in his neighborhood.
"I live on 6 acres of land; 5 of them are wooded," he said. "Once we get into August, you hear every conceivable [sound]. It's like a cacophony, all through the night. So I can just imagine what this might be in late May or early June."
In the verdant Hudson Valley, locals don't have to travel very far to hear the song.
"Most people who live in forested areas," Christie said, "hear cicadas every year."
With Patricia Kitchen