Unlocking Love’s Rhythm: Lessons from Cicada’s Periodical Mating Patterns

A Cicada’s Guide to Periodical Romance

Emergence of Trillions: Intricate Courtship Rituals Unleashed

The moment has arrived. Trillions of periodical cicadas, insects of the genus Magicicada, have spent years underground and are now emerging to participate in an intricate courtship ritual, akin to a tango. The stakes are high and the potential missteps many. These cicadas emerge across more than a dozen states, molting, singing, courting, and mating with a fervor that could be mistaken for the sound of a U.F.O. landing by the untrained human ear.

Guest List: The Dual Emergence of Broods XIII and XIX

This year, in a rare “dual emergence,” two groups of periodical cicadas are in attendance: Brood XIII, or the Northern Illinois Brood, and Brood XIX, the Great Southern Brood. Both broods consist of multiple species of cicadas, each with songs that can sound deceptively similar to the human ear. However, these songs play a crucial role in the intricate courtship and mating rituals of these insects.

Timing is Everything: The Importance of Emergence

Female cicadas typically mate just once, making it critical for the male to emerge early. However, the risks are high for the early birds, who become a prime target for predators. The odds of reproducing improve significantly during the second wave of emergence, once predator satiation has set in. As biologist David Marshall aptly points out, “You want to be Johnny on the spot. And if you show up late, you’re really screwing up.”

The Art of Attraction: Singing and Wing Flicks

Courtship among cicadas is a complex process involving a series of songs and signals. Males sing specific songs to attract females, and females respond with subtle wing flicks. However, competition is fierce, with rival males producing disruptive interference buzzes to jam the calls of their competitors.

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse: The Threat of Massospora cicadina

One of the significant threats to the cicada population is the fungus Massospora cicadina. This fungus turns cicadas into sex-crazed, spore-filled zombies intent on mating and spreading the infection. Cicadas that encounter the spores of this fungus during their emergence become hapless spore-spreaders for the next generation.

The Cycle Continues: The Next Generation of Cicadas

In a few weeks, the frantic activity will be over. The spent carcasses of cicadas will litter the ground, and the air will bear the scent of decay. However, tiny nests of cicada eggs will remain in the trees, ready to hatch and drop to the ground. The nymphs will burrow down, find a rootlet to sip on, and wait. See you in 13 or 17 years!

Indeed, the emergence, courtship, survival, and reproduction of periodical cicadas is a testament to the intricate and fascinating world of these insects. The stakes are high, the challenges many, but the dance of life continues, ensuring the survival of these species for generations to come.