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We Walked With Cicada Biologist So You Don’t Have To Do It

Far away, the trunk of a large maple appears to have been wrapped in brown leaves, or perhaps a serious case of acne. But get closer and the gnats form a host of living things, all of which are trying to climb safety in the branches above.

These are cicadas that have just emerged from underground slavery, hunted down for the past 17 years, sucking up the roots of tree roots as they grow their foot in the ground. Today is their big day, their “exit”, as experts call it. After a cold spring, the soil temperature here in Suburban Silver Spring, Maryland, has reached 64 degrees: passing time. The sun is coming up and young foxes are coming out of their holes, looking for something very close up – a tree, a bush, or patio chairs – to climb. Then they wait for their bodies to grow stronger and stronger into tiny particles. A few hours later, the cicadas dropped their purple shells and started morpp from childhood to adulthood. Their bodies are darkened, their eyes are blood-red, they have strong copper wings and they want to get married as quickly as possible.

In the eastern part of the 15th, the same ceremony takes place. Billions of cicadas are emerging this week from Brood X – three different species (two from each genus) Magical) which comes out of the ground immediately. There are 12 children of 17-year-old cicadas and three children of 13-year-old cicadas in the eastern US, which are found at different ages. But Brood X (entomologists use Roman numerals) is one of the largest and is located very close to human settlements, such as the central region. Washington, DC, and New Jersey, and westward to Ohio and Indiana.

Zoe Getman-Pickering, a postdoctoral scientists at George Washington University, is one of the cicada researchers who is taking advantage of a six-week opportunity to learn as much as they can about the amazing life of insects, microbes, and the abundance of people are growing in both the eastern forests and the rural areas. Dressed in comfortable jeans and a pair of khaki shirts, and carrying a display board and binoculars, Getman-Pickering travels in the area look thousands upon thousands.

He empathizes with them. As people after more than a year of Covid-19, they are also used to being in a group. “After the epidemic, it’s something most people can understand,” says Getman-Pickering. “He is emitting the sunlight to flash, slowly and surely, trying to return to earth.”

He picks up an old man who has just come out and I look down to see if he is a man or a woman. Females have a smooth “ovipositor” to lay eggs; otherwise they are all the same.

Getman-Pickering and Grace Soltis, graduates of the University of Maryland, are not only interested in insects – they are also listing the species of birds feeding on this unexpected bonanza. “What we’re predicting is that when all the bees come out, there’s plenty of food to feed the birds,” says Getman-Pickering. “Why all the work of getting small insects when you can get the freedom to eat crab trees?”

It is said that the number of birds increases as they migrate from their infested animals and other small insects to the new buffet. An abundance of bird food means better chances of breeding, and – after all – more small birds.

In fact, less than an hour after the rhino starts crawling on top of large maples, low axes, a few tree sparrows, and a crow enter and begin to eat the moose. And it’s not just birds, says Getman-Pickering. “Every animal eats cicadas, including rats and dogs if they are not kept,” he says. People too.

Video: Eric Niiler

Getman-Pickering spends every day in the field collecting data from rural areas of Maryland, another rural timber region, and control areas without cicadas near Chesapeake Bay. Comparing their proliferation of birds and caterpillars, they hope to create natural paintings that can last a few weeks after the cicadas. “When the birds stop eating caterpillars,” says Getman-Pickering, “the number of caterpillars will explode and damage the trees.

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