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December 18, 2014

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Cicadas: The neverending summer alarm clock

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Mikayla Whitmore

After 2 to 17 years depending on the type, cicadas emerge from the ground as nymphs. Nymphs climb the nearest available tree, and begin to shed their exoskeleton.

Bzzzzz. Bzzzzz.

If you live near any kind of plant life, that’s probably all you’re hearing these days.

Cicadas emit their characteristic buzz for most of summer, when they emerge in Las Vegas in full force. They sing pretty much any time it’s warm and light. Unfortunately, for most Las Vegas residents, that’s all day.

Already had enough? Tough luck. They’ll probably be around for a couple more weeks.

Life cycle

Cicadas live underground for most of their lives. As babies, they burrow underground and cling to tree roots. They can live in soil as shallow as an inch or as deep as a meter and typically remain there for years, sucking the sap out of roots to stay alive. Some species spend up to 17 years underground.

In mid-June ...

As they near maturity, cicada nymphs dig tunnels to the surface, emerge by the millions and climb on top of nearby trees. There, they shed their exoskeleton and become adults. Discarded exoskeletons can be found on valley trees, still clinging to bark where cicadas left them.

In July ...

Using highly developed membranes in their hollow abdomens, adult males produce their distinctive sound to attract mates. Measuring up to 120 decibels at close range, the sound is one of the loudest produced by any insect. Some species ­— there are thousands — can be heard hundreds of yards away. To avoid damaging their own ability to hear, the males disable their hearing membrane while singing.

When female cicadas are ready to lay eggs, they use a saw-like membrane to slice open tree branches. There, they lay up to a dozen eggs and slide them into the opening for safekeeping.

In mid-August ...

Adult cicadas die after only about a month above ground. By then, the next generation of rice-sized nymphs has hatched and fallen to the ground.

Circle of life

The time cicadas spend above ground is pretty harrowing. Most everything is out to get them: birds, squirrels, snakes, rats, lizards, spiders, praying mantises. And then there’s the cicada killer, a large wasp that hunts cicadas specifically, paralyzes the insects with a sting, snatches them up from trees and carries their bodies to nests to feed its larvae.

Apache cicadas

Apache cicadas live mostly in the Southwest and Mexico. They have a relatively short lifespan, spending only about two years underground.

Where are they?

Cicadas can live pretty much anywhere with a tree or shrub. Entomologist Jeff Knight often finds them on elm and ash trees and in heavily landscaped areas.

Plant killers

Cicadas aren’t considered pests and they don’t bite or sting, but they do pose a threat to plant life. When females slice open twigs to lay their eggs, they sometimes kill whole branches. Small and newly planted trees are most vulnerable, Knight said.

Cicada hatred

It isn’t cicadas’ fault that Las Vegas is a 24-hour town, but their incessant daytime singing irks many. Their song can be like an alarm clock that won’t turn off.

Don’t sweat it

It’s not technically considered sweating, but Apache cicadas do push liquid out of their bodies when they get hot. The insects suck water-rich sap from trees, then exude extra water through their bodies. The water evaporates and cools them, as with human sweat.

How many are there?

Near a tree, it can seem like there are hundreds, all singing at the same time. But in fact, any more than 10 on a single tree would be a unusual, Knight said.

Cicada Granola Chews

Did you know?

The easiest cicadas to capture are the nymphs that have just shed their exoskeletons, because they can’t fly or jump.

It might sound disgusting, but cicadas are edible. In fact, pound for pound, they have as much protein as lean beef and are low in cholesterol and fat.

People around the world regularly eat them. They are a staple in China, Malaysia, Burma, Latin America and the Congo. Females typically are meatier because their bellies contain eggs. Shells from both sexes often are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Ingredients

• 15 female cicadas (females have a pointed back end whereas males have a rounded back end)

• 1 cup flour

• 1 cup brown sugar

• 1/2 tsp cinnamon

• 1/2 cup butter

• 1 egg

• 1/2 tsp vanilla

• 1/4 tsp baking soda

• 1/2 tsp salt

• 2 1/2 cups granola cereal with raisins

Directions: Freeze the cicadas, then break off their legs and wings. Boil them for 5 minutes, then bake them at 550 degrees for 10 minutes. Once the cicadas have cooled, chop them very finely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the cereal. Mix until smooth.

Stir in half of the cereal. Form dough into 1-inch balls, then roll each in the remaining cereal. Place them 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown.

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