17-year Cicadas Set to Invade the Northeast

Next month, billions of cicadas will begin to emerge from the ground as their internal clocks hit the 17-year mark.

Next month, as temperatures warm, billions of cicadas will begin to emerge from the ground as their internal clocks hit the 17-year mark. Soon, their numbers will swell in locations in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia and West Virginia, making a racket as the males call for the females.

These red-eyed bugs began their lives in 1999, spent over a decade and a half underground, and soon will complete their life cycles as they crawl aboveground, mate, and then die after a month or a month and a half. The cicadas in this 17-year group are called Brood V, and are actually comprised of three different species. Other cicada species follow a 13-year cycle, or an annual one.

In Ohio, the milestone in the bugs' lives is even cause for celebration among humans- gift shops will sell a commemorative t-shirt. "It's going to be a wild ride," Wendy Weirich, who directs outdoor education for Cleveland Metroparks in Ohio,told the Plain Dealer. "It's like Rip Van Winkle for insects."

Cleveland Metroparks- which will host a number of special cicada events, including one called "Cicada Invasion"- summed up what to expect from the brood's emergence this way: "Overall, there will be a lot of bugs and a lot of noise."

In fact, the bugs will be so numerous that their density can hit 1.5 million critters per acre.

The black and orange bugs won't emerge this year until the soil hits 64 degrees. After the females lay their eggs this season, nymphs that hatch from them eventually make their way underground- where, like their parents, they will stay for another 17 years.

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Insects and other creepy crawlies may be tiny, but their lineages are mighty, finds a new study that determined the common ancestor of mites and insects existed about 570 million years ago. The study, published in the latest issue of the journal Science, presents an evolutionary timeline that settles many longstanding uncertainties about insects and related species. It found that true insects first emerged about 479 million years ago, long before dinosaurs first walked the Earth. Co-author Karl Kjer, a Rutgers entomologist, explained that mites are arthropods, a group that's distantly related to insects. Spiders and crustaceans are also arthropods.

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Spiders such as the huntsman spider can, like mites, trace their lineages back to about 570 million years ago, according to the new study. The researchers believe that the common ancestor of mites, spiders and insects was a water-dweller.

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Millipedes, such as the one shown here, as well as centipedes are known as myriapods. The most recent common ancestor of myriapods and crustaceans lived about 550 million years ago. Again, this "mother of many bugs" would have been a marine dweller. Kjer explained, "You can't really expect anything to live on land without plants, and plants and insects colonized land at about the same time, around 480 million years ago. So any date before that is a sea creature." Moving forward in time, the most common ancestor of millipedes and centipedes existed a little over 400 million years ago. The leggy body plan has proven to be extremely successful.

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"This is an early insect that evolved before insects had wings," Kjer said. Its ancestry goes back about 420 million years. The common ancestor of silverfish living today first emerged about 250 million years ago. Dinosaurs and the earliest mammals likely would have then seen silverfish very similar to the ones that are alive now.

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Dragonflies and damselflies have family histories that go back about 406 million years. Kjer said that such insects looked differently then, however. "For example," he said, "they had visible antennae." Their distant ancestors were among the first animals on earth to fly.

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"Parasitic lice are interesting, because they probably needed either feathers or fur," Kjer said. As a result, they are the relative newbies to this list. Nonetheless, the researchers believe it is possible that ancestors of today's lice were around 120 million years ago, possibly living off of dinosaurs and other creatures then.

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Termites and cockroaches have a tightly interwoven family history. Termites similar to the ones we know today were around 138 million years ago. Now we often think of termites as pests, but they are good eats for many different animals, which back in the day would have included our primate ancestors.

Flies like houseflies that often buzz around homes belong to the order Diptera, which has a family tree that goes back 243 million years ago. The most recent common ancestor for modern flies lived about 158 million years ago, according to the study. There is little doubt that the earliest humans, and their primate predecessors, had to contend with pesky flies and all of the other insects mentioned on this list. All of these organisms are extremely hardy. The researchers determined that, in the history of our planet, there has only been one mass extinction event that had much impact on insects. It occurred 252 million years ago (the Permian mass extinction), and even it set the stage for the emergence of flies, cockroaches, termites and numerous other creepy crawlies.

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