Columbia College invaded!

Main campus under sonic assault.

Come early June, the main campus in Columbia, Mo., becomes a more tranquil place as students and professors leave for non-academic endeavors.

Periodical cicada
Most Junes.

Not June 2011.

In late May, thousands of red-eyed cicadas emerged and took to the trees to emit their deafening mating song. This strident buzz can reach 120 decibels, the equivalent of a very loud rock concert, if the beasties are densely congregated enough.

Dr. Peggy Wright, assistant professor of biology, says these are 13-year cicadas, last here in 1998. Periodical cicadas are uniquely North American.

They are not dangerous — they don't even have jaws, so they can’t bite — but an annoyed male cicada (females emit more of a clicking or popping sound) caught in your hair and letting you know about it can be an unsettling experience.

"Columbia College has been invaded by periodical cicadas!" says Dr. Wright.

"Actually, they’ve been here all along, just hidden underground. Females lay their eggs in certain species of trees. When the eggs hatch, the cicada, now called a nymph, falls to the ground and burrows in the soil to feed off the tree root. This is where they spend most of their life.

Molted cicada exoskeletons
"This spring, the nymphs crawled out of the soil for their last molt. You can see their exoskeletons scattered around campus, often clinging to plants, buildings or low branches. Once molted, the males begin their call to attract a female — this call can be quite loud. I was on campus early this week, and the noise around the south entrance to St. Clair Hall was deafening!

"As the noise dies down, you’ll notice adults littering the sidewalks and lawn. [Editor's note: The sidewalks are crunchy underfoot.] This part of their life cycle is very short, and the adults die after mating. Once the males and females mate, the life cycle will start over again and we’ll see them back in 13 years."

There are also 17-year and fall species of cicada. Just about the time these love-struck insects are a memory, their better-known cousins the annual cicadas will make their appearance, although in much smaller numbers.

So until 2024 rolls around, enjoy (or at least tolerate) this timeless natural phenomenon.


Anonymous said...

To actually watch as these creatures crawl out of the ground and up a tree an then begin to break through their exoskeleton is quite a sight. Mind you this process can take several hours as they crawl quite slowly, but when you take your walks in the evening take a look around and you will see. I advise not picking them up in this molting process as it may damage their wings and not allow them to fly. Enjoy the summer all, as I know the sound of a cicada brings back memories of summers gone by.

Anonymous said...

I am actually killing as many of these pests as I can. I even went as far as to introduce the cicada-killers into the Missouri environment to lessen their numbers......

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize that the cyclical cicadas were a unique thing. It's kind of cool sound, too - like a 50's sci-fi B-movie. But loud!

Anonymous said...

The cicada-killer wasps are considered more of a pest than the cicadas themselves, which are pretty harmless. Each wasp make a large dirt mound in the lawn, and they are difficult to eradicate.

DG said...

As much as I hate the noise they make, I actually like them because they remind me of summer when I was a kid. Don't be a cicada-killer....