National Geographic : 1953 Jul
142 Moodly Institute of Scierce Owners Have Departed; Hollow Housings Cling to Horse Chestnut Leaves Two invading hordes confront awakening citizens on the morning after a cicada emergence: a throng of winged insects and a silent army of shells. The bewildered observer at first assumes the shells to be complete insects and marvels that so many could have appeared and died within one night's passing. Then he discovers the truth: the ghostly husks are deserted. A slit along each back betrays the exit of the winged cicada. Shells grip tightly enough to withstand convulsions of emerging adults, but later give way in the wind and strew the ground with a chitinous carpet. Oak, hickory, apple, and peach are favorite trees for egg laying. riodical cicadas bearing the sign of the W appear somewhere in the eastern United States almost every year, regardless of war or peace, dims the cicada's luster as a prophet. Hearsay gives the insect a venomous sting. Actually it would be very difficult for the cicada to puncture human skin with beak or ovipositor. All authenticated cases of sting ing are accounted for by the cicada-killer wasp, occasionally picked up by accident with its prey.* Only orchardists are likely to suffer exten sively from cicada damage. DDT gives no relief, but a newly proved weapon is now available-tetraethyl pyrophosphate. This insecticide, commonly known as TEPP, is suc cessful when properly applied, but it is toxic to man and must be handled carefully. The ordinary homeowner in areas of heavy infesta tion had better protect his shrubs and young ornamental trees with cheesecloth. The fisherman has some cause for complaint during cicada season. His usual lures may prove ineffectual when fish can satisfy their hunger with a bountiful supply of the large insects. Indeed, while "locusts" are avail able, country people often use nothing else for bait. However, there's a rewarding compensation for the angler. He may have to work harder to get a strike, but his prize is the richer when he takes it. Trout that have fed for a month on cicadas are much stronger and heavier than usual; their flesh is firm and highly colored. A clumsy flyer, the cicada falls easy prey to enemies. A fungus disease often decimates the hordes. Pigs root deep for the nymphs. Squirrels, barnyard fowl, skunks, dogs, fish, and wild birds fatten on a cicada diet. In some places gluttonous English sparrows have almost wiped out the insect. As the Woods Vanish, So Do Cicadas But man, unwittingly, is cicadadom's great est enemy. Wherever he cuts down trees and lays concrete and asphalt, the cicada is doomed. Millions coming from the ground in recent weeks found their woodland homes gone. For them the line was broken; they were a lost generation. In their playgrounds the Pharaoh note will be heard no more. Since cicadas do not migrate, the map of cicadaland constantly diminishes. Noisy the 17-year visitor may be, but he is a unique and fascinating creature, and the American scene will seem the poorer for his passing. * See "Potent Personalities-Wasps and Hornets," by Austin H. Clark, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, July, 1937.