Cicadas Sing A Loud Love Song
After years underground, 13-year cicadas reappear in St. Louis, but in a month, they will once again be gone.
For 13 years, a species of cicadas has prepared for its month of love. Earlier in May, after years of living underground and feeding from the tree’s roots, billions of Brood 19 cicadas came out from the ground to eat, mate and die.
For people living in Town and Country and Manchester, it's nearly impossible not to hear and see them as this natural cycle occurs.
Clinging from tree branches, these red-eyed creatures use drum-like structures in their abdomen to create a high pitch sound with which they attract their female partners. The cicada's song can be as loud as 80 to 90 decibels—the noise level of a freight train or chainsaw—said Erin Shank, urban wildlife biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Shank calls the recent wave of cicadas a fascinating phenomenon that is a good sign of Mother Nature. So many of these high-protein cicadas come out at once, they provide an excess of food for birds, fish and other insect-predators.
"The key point is that this large emergence is an indicative of a healthy ecosystem," Shank said.
But this is not the first, nor the worst emergence of cicadas in the area. In 1998, the 17-year cicada and the 13-year cicada emerged at the same time.
Julie Bonno, a Manchester resident, lived through the 1998 cicada invasion.
"We had trees that were just solid, covered in the cicadas," Bonno said.
Currently, there is not a certain answer as to why the cicadas come out in masses throughout the years. Shank said there are evolutionary theories about them emerging at once so that there are so many of them, their predators can't eat them all.
"But we don't exactly know, and it is a really interesting phenomenon in nature," Shank said.
Donna Webber, a Town and Country resident, likes to walk her dog, Missy, in Longview Farm park, which in the afternoon becomes one solid chorus of cicadas. As a cicada lands on Webber’s shoulder, she does not try to remove it. Webber said she enjoys having them around.
"They are interesting," Webber said. "We are learning about nature, and I love their song. Though I am not real happy about them being available to the dog."
The cicadas are not harmful for plants or gardens, with the exception of some small shrubs, Shank said. However, she said dogs can get sick if they eat too many of them, but a few here and there won't harm them.
Trey Link, assistant manager at Mike Duffy's Pub and Grill in Town and Country, said he hasn't heard too many people complain about the cicadas in the outdoor patio, except for a couple patrons who have asked to be moved indoors.
"I haven't heard a whole lot yet," Link said. "We haven't had them fall on people's plates or anything like that."
Similarly, Anne Nixon, director of parks and recreation for Town and Country, said not too many people have complained about cicadas in the local parks. A few events, however, have been moved inside because of them.
"I am fascinated by them, but I know plenty of other people do not share our sentiment," Nixon said.
Shank said some cicadas have already started to die. In about a month, they will be completely gone. In 2015, the 17-year cicada will emerge in some areas of Missouri, but in the St. Louis area they will not be as noticeable as this time around.
"It won't last long, so just try to appreciate the awesomeness of it," Shank said. "The annoying part of it is short-lived."
Some people have even taken the cicada invasion as an opportunity to include them in their diets. Sparky's Homemade Ice Cream in Columbia, MO has recently created a cicada mix among its flavors. Shank said some of the staff at the MDC recently had a cicada barbecue.
"They made cicada pizza and stir fry cicada, and they ate it all up," Shank said. "I couldn't go, but they said they (cicadas) taste nutty."