xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

That familiar racket your hear around Carroll County? It’s dog day cicadas

August in Carroll County is known for the emergence and appearance of loud insects looking for love. That loud racket you are hearing outside these days is that of the cicada, the world’s loudest insect, singing its mating song.

Unlike their longer-living Brood X cousins that rattled many of the Mid-Atlantic states in spectacular numbers this spring, the singing cicadas now emerging across Carroll County are the plain, vanilla models.

Advertisement
A dog day cicada clings to its nymph shell on a tree, waiting to dry, after emerging from its nymph state in West Baltimore in August 2013. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)
A dog day cicada clings to its nymph shell on a tree, waiting to dry, after emerging from its nymph state in West Baltimore in August 2013. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun) (Karl Merton Ferron)

One way I keep my finger on the pulse of the community is by fielding questions in the grocery store checkout line.

Recently, I was asked, “What’s the insect that is making all that noise these days? Are they locusts?”

Advertisement
Advertisement

This is not the first time I have been asked this question. In August 2005 a woman questioned me about cicadas and I wrote about our exchange.

“What’s the insect that is making all that noise?” she asked. “They’re cicadas,” I replied. “Actually, the cicadas in the Carroll County area are known as the dog day cicadas, since they are most prevalent in the dog days of August. They arrive every summer in July and August. The singing that you hear is their mating song.” It seems to get louder the warmer it is outside. But, these cicadas are different from the 17-year variety.

“Well, whatever you call them, with all that racket they ought to be illegal,” she said.

“Yes ma’am,” I replied with a smile.

Advertisement

“Didn’t the county commissioners just pass a noise ordinance?” she wondered.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Well then, can’t you do something about them?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am. I think that they can only be arrested if they are riding an ATV.”

She didn’t crack a smile.

“Are they dangerous? Can they hurt you?” she asked.

“No,” I said, “only attacking giant killer tomatoes are dangerous in Carroll County. Zucchini and squash are dangerous in Carroll County — when they are in season — but not cicadas. Cicadas are, for the most part, harmless to plants, pets and humans. They do not bite or sting. They are really rather friendly,” I explained. She finally smiled.

After that exchange, I went home and called the real answer person in Carroll County for bugs and plants, Steve Allgeier. Allgeier has long since retired. At the time, my friend Allgeier was the horticultural consultant for the Carroll County Cooperative Extension Service. He may very well have had the neatest job in Carroll County, and he certainly seemed to enjoy it.

Allgeier filled me in on all the technical details of cicadas. The Latin name for the species found in Carroll County is Tibicen resh (class: Insecta / order: Hemiptera / family: Cicadidae / genus: Megatibicen / species: Resh). Cicadas sing during the day. Katydids sing at night this time of the year and later on, come the crickets.

Besides our shared passion for trees, shrubs and horticulture, I found out that Allgeier and I both really like cicadas. Allgeier remarked, “They always bring back fond memories of my childhood. … One of the classic sounds of summer.” I could not agree more.

Professor Stanton Gill, the Central Maryland Cooperative Extension Service regional plant and insect specialist in 2005, explained in an interview that when the colonists first landed, their primary reference for things in the New World was the Bible; they incorrectly identified cicadas as locusts.

The cicadas around here are about 1¾ inches long, with iridescent black and green tinted bodies, red eyes and transparent wings, except for the wing veins. They spend about two years or so in the ground feeding on roots. When cicadas emerge from the ground, they shed their frail exoskeletons, leaving behind a fragile hollow shell. Then they scramble up trees for the sole purpose of singing and reproducing. They do not eat during this period of their life.

Some cicada species are indeed the world’s loudest insects. They can produce a sound that is approximately 106 decibels (dBA). To give you a reference point, a normal conversation is 60 decibels. Many folks at public hearings speak at 110 dBA (the level of shouting.) A baby crying or a child’s squeaky toy is 110 dBA. A lawn mower is between 65 and 95 decibels.

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis explained in an article that cicadas sing by “…rapidly flexing a convex membrane on the side of their abdomen. The [rapid] motion produces a series of clicks, which resonates in the hollow front of the abdomen.”

The Delaware News Journal noted that cicadas “get their nickname from … when Sirius, the brightest star in the summer sky and a part of the Big Dog constellation, rises and sets with the sun.”

As I was leaving the grocery store, my new cicadas-questioning friend was laughing pretty hard but had one more question. “My dog likes to chase and eat them. Is it harmful to eat them?”

“I am not sure that I can recommend it, but I’ve heard that they are great with ice cream … and a little chocolate syrup. The wings are crunchy,” I said.

“That’s disgusting.”

“All right then, just cook ‘em with grits. It’ll soften the wings and the hard body parts, and everything goes with grits.”

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement