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Cicadas now emerging on Staten Island

Cicadas of the Brood II population are now making their debut in New York City, for the first time in 17 years.

By Megan GannonLiveScience News Editor / May 28, 2013

After a dark 17-year juvenile period underground, Brood II cicadas having been emerging along the East Coast.

Courtesy of the National Pest Management Association / Tom Meyers

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The 17-year-old sex-crazed cicadas of Brood II have started to stir in Staten Island.

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Historically, large numbers of these periodical cicadas have spent their short but dramatic adulthoods in the borough, but they might be harder to spot elsewhere in New York City.

The noisy creatures started emerging by the hundreds last week in certain parts of Staten Island, said Edward Johnson, director of science at the Staten Island Museum. But the insects are not likely to come out in droves in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan, Johnson added.

"They don't fly very far as adults, and so are unlikely to colonize other boroughs from Staten Island," he said. [Ewww! 6 Crazy Facts About Cicadas]

Brood II is one of the distinct cicada populations that only matures every 13 or 17 years. Known as periodical cicadas, they belong to the genus Magicicada, and they can be found only in the eastern half of North America. Brood II's range extends from Georgia to Connecticut and it began its emergence earlier this month.

Their loud mating calls and carpet of corpses may come as a nuisance to some, but each emergence is exciting for entomologists studying the mysterious, long-lived insects — they spend most of their lives in an immature stage. The cicadas coming out of the ground now were born in 1996, meaning they're the first Brood II generation to be greeted by Twitter and Flickr, which make it possible for people to socially share their pictures of the insects. Radiolab's Cicada Tracker and Magicicada as well allow citizen scientists to report their sightings in real time.

Mapping where these 17-year cicadas emerge could offer new insights on land use, climate change and the bugs themselves. The cicadas' long subterranean youth, which may be the longest of any known insect, means it's difficult for scientists to study their life cycle.

Geographically, the 17-year brood populations fit together like puzzle pieces. Brood II is almost like the keystone, since its range borders that of many other broods, University of Connecticut cicada expert John Cooley said earlier this month. Scientists think they might be able to learn about why different broods evolved by studying their boundaries.

For Johnson, the emergence will give him a chance to show off the Staten Island Museum's collection of cicadas, the second largest in the world. He said he has dim memories of the Brood II emergences on Staten Island in 1962 and 1979, but better recollections from last time, in 1996.

From that year, Johnson recalls "lots of cicada song and activity in the woodlands, lots of media attention, and my youngest son was born three months before the emergence, so he is a 'cicada baby,' and gets to measure his life in cicada years."

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