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Periodic cicadas return after 13-year life cycle
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Entomologists and exotic food connoisseurs alike are anticipating the arrival of the 13-year cicada in southwest Mississippi.
These insects live underground for 13 years before emerging for an adult life that lasts about two weeks. Brood 22 of periodic cicadas is expected to surface in Adams, Claiborne, Jefferson, Warren, Wilkinson and possibly Rankin counties in mid- to late-May.
Some people considered them a delicacy. The newly emerged adults can be fried, either battered or plain, dipped in sauce and eaten.
Richard Brown is an entomologist and director of the Mississippi Entomological Museum operated by the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at Mississippi State University. He said broods of cicadas are named according to the order in which they emerge. Some broods have become extinct and no periodic cicadas emerge that year.
"In any given year in this country, we have the potential for the emergence of periodic cicadas," Brown said. "Each brood that comes out in a year can include different species."
Periodic cicadas are not to be confused with the green, or dog day, cicadas that come out every summer. These have a four-to six-year life cycle and look and sound different than the periodic cicadas. The longer-living species have a distinct call, arrive in large numbers in late spring and have orange ribs or veins in their wings.
The periodic cicadas in Mississippi have a 13-year life span, unlike their northern cousins who spend 17 years below ground.
"For many years, people assumed that what we had down here was on a 17-year cycle," Brown said.
Back in 1845, medical doctor D.L. Phares of Woodville wrote an article in the local newspaper that chronicled his observation that these cicadas have a 13-year life cycle. His finding went unnoticed for about 20 years until the federal entomologist of the time came to the same conclusion, Brown said.
The life cycle of the cicada is simple. Adults emerge from the ground and begin calling. After mating, the female lays her eggs in the tips of tree branches. Evidence of these eggs can sometimes be seen by the ends of branches turning brown. After the eggs hatch, tiny cicadas fall to the ground and burrow in. Here, they pierce the roots of trees and feed on the sap.
"There's no evidence that they have any harmful effect on trees," Brown said. "There's no reason to try to control them, and it would be hopeless to try to stop the cicadas."
While southwest Mississippi will see Brood 22 emerge this year, many others are maturing in the ground. In 1998, northeast Mississippi saw a major emergence of Brood 19, which won't reappear until 2011.
History has no record of the existence of a Brood 20. Brood 21 should have appeared in 2000 but is extinct, although Brown said there are records of its existence in the state's past.
"We don't know why it went extinct, but habitat alteration to remove the hardwood tress is probably a major factor," Brown said.
While some folks see them as bugs, others' mouths begin to water. Brown said those who eat the cicadas pick them up just after they emerge from the ground and shed their shell and gut. They are extremely clean and white at this time before they harden. Fried, they are a little crunchy with a nutty, shrimp taste.
For more information, contact: Dr. Richard Brown, (662) 325-2990