Brood X One Year Later
News Category: Cicada Missions
Brood X One Year Later
So it's one year later (2005). I'm a year older and Brood X is one year gone. Or is it? I decided to see what the same areas where I found Brood X Magicicadas in West Virginia last year are like this year. I've heard that some Magicicadas can get their emergence times mixed up (maybe because they forgot to set their alarm clocks) and you can get what is known as Straggling. This happens when a small number of Magicicadas from any given Brood emerge a year later.
I decided that I wanted to investigate this phenomenon. While straggling only involves a small number of Magicicadas, these late bloomers never really make it to a point where they mate. Not very many emerge to begin with and since they are not Predator Foolhardy, they usually end up getting eaten by predators.
What is Predator Foolhardy?
Well, to put it bluntly, a species is considered Predator Foolhardy when they overwhelm the problem of being preyed upon by their sheer numbers. In a brood year there are so many Magicicadas that emerge (between 150,000 to 1,500,000 per acre) that the need to run from predators isn't necessary. You see, even if 1/2 - 3/4 of Magicicada numbers get's eaten, a theoretical point known as Predator Satiation kicks in. That is after the predators that prey on Magicicadas have eaten their fill, the predators are no longer interested in eating so there will still be many Magicicadas left to mate and continue the brood for the next 17 years.
On a side note, my sister has observed immediately following the demise of Brood X in her area of West Viriginia that there seemed to be an over-abundance of moles where she lives. Moles especially like to prey on Magicicada nymphs. Since last year was a banner year due to the abundant Magicicada food supply, many mole offspring were born.
So, Magicicadas from straggling broods though arriving a year late still do not have the ability to evade predators (hence not Predator Foolhardy) and they end up getting eaten.
Magicicada Plan of Action
My trip this year would be for two reasons:
A. To investigate and document any evidence of Brood X stragglers.
B. Last year (2004), I discovered some documentation furnished by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture which stated that Brood XI was scheduled for an appearance this year in Nicholas and Fayette counties of West Virginia. After a year long discussion with the leading Entomologists in the study of Magicicadas it was decided that this should be investigated. Naturally your's truly would do the leg work, as it was believed that the documentation was wrong. Brood XI's range was never documented as being seen in West Viriginia and that Brood XI is believed to be extinct since 1954.
Brood X Investigation for Stragglers
My first stop was Falling Waters Presbyrterian Church on Route 901 Spring Mills road in Hedgesville, WV. What a difference a year makes! It's awfully quiet now. Lots of birds singing but no Magicicada sounds.
Looking at the base of some maple trees I even see evidence of exuvia and decomposed Magicicada bodies. But this doesn't make any sense. These couldn't be from last year could they? After all, the grounds of the cemetery are maintained with lawn mowers so whatever was there last year would have gotten chewed up and would've decomposed by now.
While the amount of exuvia and bodies was in no way like last year, I was amazed that there were as many as there were. These exuvia did seem to be pretty brown in color but they were the same size and are typical of Magicicada exuvia. I could only conclude (so far) that these were either from last year or they emerged a few weeks earlier than my arrival and there were no complete bodies. I did notice the trade-marked smell of decomposing Magicicada bodies (almost like ripe cheese).
Walking around the cemetery further showed other evidence of Magicicada exuvia high up in a lot of trees. What would really be interesting is to try to obtain an actual live specimen either as a nymph or an adult. I may have to come back to this little cemetery after dark. Right now it's time to go and visit my sister who also lives in Hedgesville, but is about 15 miles from my present position.
At my sister's place I found more evidence of emergence holes. Even some holes with mud turrets. The woods surrounding my sister's property are very dense and it was very difficult to find evidence of exuvia but I sure did find a lot of emergence holes.
I return back to Falling Waters Presbyrterian Church around 9:00 pm that evening. Jackpot!! Crawling up the trunk of a huge maple tree I discovered this Magicicada nymph. It's definitely too early for West Virginia's Annual Cicadas to emerge. I'm definitely sure this is a Magicicada nymph because of the color of it's eyes. Note how red they are in the picture to the right.
I put the nymph in my trusty plastic tray with individual compartments like I do with my annual Cicada nymphs. This tray is smooth and made of plastic and seems to prevent cicadas from molting. I was able to search the entire cemetery that night without fear of the Magicicada molting before I got it home. Unfortunately though I was able to find more exuvia I did not find any more live specimens.
The Magicicada Molt Process
Time to get some good shots of the Magicicada molt process as I did not have any when I visited here last year.
The above thumbnails are of the molt process of the Magicicada nymph that I obtained at Falling Waters Presbyrterian Church. Some of the pictures didn't come out too clearly due to the low-level lighting available. It's amazing how the newly emerged teneral is almost completely white but then hardens to become completely black.
The End Result
This specimen ended up being a male Magicicada cassini. While last year there were a ton of these little guys around, for some reason, I never really ended up with any specimens that I took home with me to study. I took home mostly Magicicada septendecim and Magicicada septendecula. While M. septendecula and M. cassini are very similar in appearance you can tell the difference by the orange highlights on the sternites of M. septendecula. The sternites of M. cassini are completely black and of course their calls are very different.
At the time I wasn't really too concerned that last year I had no M. cassini specimens but in retrospect I'm glad I have at least this one specimen. Even though this guy is a year late it still ended up being a very fine specimen.
It actually ended up living for approximately 8 days and travelled many miles with me around West Virginia and finally home to Massachusetts. It was great having this specimen as an example when I did my research in Fayette and Nicholas Counties of West Viriginia to investigate whether Brood XI existed or not. I could just show the people I talked to what Magicicadas actually looked like.
This M. cassini specimen, just like M. septendecula actually started calling for females. It did this most of the day that I returned home which was June 6th and the next (June 7th). The next day, however it was dead.
I noticed that this specimen was afflicted with the fungal parasite Massospora cicadina. It's a fungal infection that becomes active once the cicada emerges from the ground and eventually causes their abdomens to pop exposing a white chalky substance within and leaving the Magicicada sterile. At this point if a male Magicicada is infected with this fungal parasite, it can no longer mate and depending upon the extent of the damage, no longer call for a female. This condition affects both males and females.
I have noticed in my particular specimen that even though it was infected with Massospora cicadina, it still was able to call for a mate prior to the full onset of the infection. If the male Periodical Cicada mates prior to the infection taking hold, that is early after the molt process, the infection is transmitted through sexual contact. The newly hatched first instar nymphs then complete their development while the infection lies dormant.
Brood X Straggling Conclusion
Thus ends my investigation of Brood X straggling. I was happy with the results though I wish I was able to obtain more live specimens but alas, one will have to do. If you want to read about the Brood XI results, then read below.
The Brood XI Investigation
The following is an excerpt of an email that I sent to other Entomologists who were interested in knowing what the results of Brood XI investigation turned up:
I think we can put to rest the issue of Brood XI in Fayette and Nicholas counties.
I drove from Interstate 79 to route 19 which runs right through the center of both Fayette and Nicholas Counties with the windows open and heard no calling ending up for the night in Gauley Bridge. I went to Kanawah falls and had a look around. Nothing there.
The second day, I concentrated on Fayette County. I went to Hawks Nest State Park and hiked about 7 miles and found nothing, not even emergence holes. I then went to Babcock State Park and went horseback riding for 2 hours looking very carefully at the trees and ground and also listening and found nothing, in the interim, I drove along route 60, route 20 and route 41 nothing in Fayette County.
The third day, I concentrated on Nicholas County and went through Monongahela National Forest then, concentrated on the higher elevations and went to Summit Lake, I hiked around the entire lake looking for signs and found nothing. I then cut straight across Nicholas County via route 39 listening for any calling but heard nothing. I also stuck to high mountain ridges via back roads hoping that I might find a small pocket somewhere but alas nothing. I even found a road called "Locust Lane" and drove down it but heard and saw nothing.
While I couldn't be everywhere, I feel that I did cover a lot of territory and spoke to a lot of friendly people. (I only covered public areas as I didn't want to trespass on private property). Some didn't know what I was talking about and others (a few park rangers) seemed to say that they had an emergence last year but I think that was wrong and maybe it was two years ago?
I drove back today and clocked ove 2000 miles on my car. I had to stop at that little cemetery again in Hedgesville and found more nymph shells on trees where there were none on June first so as of June 6 some Brood X stragglers were still making an appearance.
That's it, I'm done, thanks for reading, now it's time to start on the annual cicadas.
As you can see, the results of my investigation of Brood XI in West Virginia was a bust. But hey, I met some pretty cool people and that area of West Virginia is very scenic and well worth a visit.