All along the East Coast, folks are preparing for a cicada-pacolypse.
Large populations of the bizarre bug-eyed insects, which take to the sky only once every 17 years, are preparing to emerge from the dirt, but local experts say Riverhead will not feel an effect from the population boom.
Entemologist Dan Gilrein of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead said members of the Brood II population of cicadas, last seen in 1996, will ascend in Virginia, Maryland, and parts of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey as temperatures warm in the coming month — but not on Long Island.
“This particular brood historically had a portion of its population in Nassau County, but I don’t remember hearing anything about them in 1996,” Gilrein said of Long Island’s population of Brood II’s 17-year cicadas, adding he suspects deforestation and development is behind its disappearance.
“These periodical cicadas rely on a saturation strategy where they emerge in huge numbers to overwhelm predators and that strategy has worked for them over the eons, but the minute you start reducing the forest size, you’re not only reducing the habitat for them but you also enhance the edge effects from predators, meaning there are greater numbers of predators preying on them.”
Forest size is important for sustaining cicada populations, as they are related to aphids, leafhoppers and other such insects that feed off of plant fluids.
Though female cicadas ultimately insert their eggs into small branches on trees causing some twig dieback, Gilrein said the insects’ effect on trees is “relatively insignificant and of little consequence,” except in cases of some nursery-owned trees.
Though Long island won’t be visited by periodical cicadas this year, East Enders can still expect to hear the distinctive mating call of cicadas in the coming months as annual populations climb from the soil to shed their brown exoskeletons and find mates.
“Annual cicadas come out during the summer, rather than spring,” he said, adding annuals are distinct from the smaller, red-eyed periodical cicadas as their wings are tinged with blue and green, rather than orange.
“Though the periodicals are more docile, all cicadas are harmless,’ said Gilrein. “I encourage people to go experience them to see how gentle they are.”
He said interested parties should head up to the Catskills next month if they want to experience the Brood II bloom this spring.
Though periodical cicadas are not expected on Long Island this year, Gilrein said he would be interested to learn whether there are remaining remnants of Long Island’s historical Brood II population.
“I’m sure social media will be helpful in that,” he said.
Riverhead will not see a periodical cicada brood until 2016, when Gilrein said a small number from Brood V will be seen around Wading River’s Wildwood State Park.