Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cicadas continue in Belleplain

Question: What do the Cape May County Library and Bellepain State Forest currently both have in common? Answer: In both places you can browse through the periodicals!!! Our brood II 17-year Periodical Cicadas are pretty impossible to miss around Belleplain right now and participants on our Belleplain Wildlife walk last weekend were certainly entertained by these crazy red-eyed beasties.

In one particular spot off Franks Road, we found large numbers of the cicadas courting and egg-laying in small sapling oaks and this gave us some great photo opportunities. We were even able to watch males making their courtship call - that's the call that is so distinctive and sounds like a drawn out waaaaaaaaaoo, dropping down at the end. The cicadas continue to be focused around the drier, oak-dominated sections of woodland and are well worth taking a look at. Remember, these insects may be abundant, which perhaps makes them seem a little intimidating at times, but they won't physically hurt you (unless you have tree sap running through your veins!) and they certainly should not be considered pests so it is a little sad to see a number of organizations jumping on the money wagon and offering their services to rid you of your 'pests'. If you have them around your home and are concerned about a favorite yard tree, the tree should be fine unless it is still small and recently planted. If this is the case, there is any number of ways that you can sheet or net the tree just for a few weeks - then that's it for the next 17 years, by which time your tree will be big enough to cope.

If you enjoy long term studies of wildlife in your area, see if your records indicate changes in wildlife behavior because of the cicadas. Are you seeing an increase in potential cicada predators (flycatchers, mockingbirds or small raptors such as kestrels and kites); in a few weeks the eggs will be hatching and small nymphs will be dropping to the ground - keep an eye out for this and see what other species may come in to feed on the cicadas during this vulnerable stage in their development. You only get opportunities like this once every 17 years so it's fun to get involved - oh, and don't forget to get the kids involved too!!

Underside of male periodical cicada showing abdomen shape [photo by Mike Crewe].

Underside of female periodical cicada showing abdomen shape - notice the long ovipositor that is used for cutting into tree stems to lay eggs in a location safe from predators [photo by Mike Crewe].

Female periodical cicada laying eggs in a Southern Red Oak [photo by Mike Crewe].

Egg-laying slits in Southern Red Oak made by female periodical cicada [photo by Mike Crewe].

Egg slits in stem made by female periodical cicada. Damage like this can potentially be a problem for young trees but can be controlled with just a little effort [photo by Mike Crewe].

Michael O'Brien reported a party of 15 Mississippi Kites resting in trees at the Nummy Lake campground in Belleplain State Forest on 12th and the birds were still present today. It is quite likely that these birds are being drawn in to feed on the cicadas in the area [photo by Warren Cairo].

June is peak month for the wonderful saturniid moths. This Polyphemus Moth is one of the larger species and can be found on the wing now. As we move into a more modern world, it is nice that more and more people are 'collecting' moths on camera now, rather than collecting the insect itself and denying others of the enjoyment of these amazing creatures [photo by Mike Crewe].