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.
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.
"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.