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  • Denis Pepin

A Double Dose of Cicada Mania: Brood XIII Meets Brood XIX

Two cicadas perched on a green leaf, their intricate features illuminated by the warm glow of a sunset.
A pair of intricately detailed cicadas stand guard atop a vibrant green leaf. (CyberNesco)

This spring, a truly historic event unfolds across the eastern United States. Not one, but two periodical cicada broods, Brood XIX and Brood XIII, emerge from their 13- and 17-year slumber, respectively. It's a cicada extravaganza unlike any witnessed since the days of Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase!

This unprecedented double emergence adds another layer to the already fascinating story of Brood XIII cicadas. For 17 years, these remarkable insects live underground, feeding on tree roots. When the urge to reproduce strikes, a synchronized wave of nymphs erupts from the soil, transforming peaceful landscapes into a buzzing symphony.

Love Songs and a Silent Killer

Male cicadas serenade the air with their complex songs, while females, drawn by the most alluring melodies, choose their mates. However, lurking amidst the amorous throng is a silent assassin: the parasitic fungus Massospora cicadina. This gruesome enemy infects unsuspecting cicadas, consuming their vital organs and replacing their reproductive system with a cavity filled with spores.

Hijacked Brains and a Twisted Mating Frenzy

The fungus doesn't stop there. It manipulates the cicada's nervous system, turning them into hypersexual zombies. These infected cicadas attempt to mate with anything that moves, unknowingly spreading the fungus' spores and perpetuating its gruesome life cycle.

From Cicada to "Flying Saltshaker of Death"

As the infected cicada weakens, the fungal spores mature within its abdomen. The body eventually erupts, releasing a cloud of brown spores - a grim reminder of the fungus' victory. Scientists aptly nicknamed these infected corpses "flying saltshakers of death."

The released spores lie dormant in the soil, waiting for the next generation of cicadas, including those of Brood XIX emerging alongside Brood XIII this year.

Beyond the Gruesome: A Vital Role and Citizen Science

Despite the parasitic threat, cicadas play a crucial role in the ecosystem. Their underground residency aerates the soil and distributes nutrients, while their mass emergence provides a feast for predators, helping to regulate their populations.

This unique double emergence presents a golden opportunity for citizen science. Apps like "Cicada Tracker" and "Project Cicada" allow you to report sightings and contribute to tracking these fascinating creatures. Trained citizen scientists can also help identify infected cicadas and monitor predator populations during this historic event.

The Fungus: A Glimmer of Hope?

While a threat to cicadas, recent research suggests the fungus Massospora cicadina might hold benefits. The unique chemical compounds it produces could potentially fight bacterial infections or control insect pests in a more sustainable way. However, further research is needed to explore these possibilities ethically.

Adapting to a Changing World

Climate change poses a significant threat to periodical cicadas. Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns could disrupt their emergence cycles and lead to population decline. Conservation efforts focused on protecting healthy ecosystems and studying the impact of climate change are crucial for the future of Brood XIII and all cicadas.

A Celebration of the Bizarre

The story of Brood XIII, amplified by the presence of Brood XIX this year, is a celebration of the bizarre. It's a tale of resilience, manipulation, and the intricate web of life. By understanding these fascinating creatures, we gain a deeper appreciation for the interconnectedness of our planet and the importance of protecting its delicate balance.

The Intrigue of Brood XIX: A New Player in the Cicada Symphony

The co-emergence of Brood XIX alongside Brood XIII adds a new dimension to the scientific intrigue. Here's why Brood XIX is particularly interesting:

  • The Great Southern Brood: Brood XIX holds the title of the largest periodical cicada brood by geographical distribution. It covers a vast expanse stretching from Illinois and Missouri in the west to Louisiana and North Carolina in the east.

  • A 13-Year Enigma: Unlike Brood XIII with its 17-year cycle, Brood XIX follows a 13-year pattern. This difference in life cycles suggests these broods may have diverged from a common ancestor millions of years ago, evolving separate strategies for survival.

  • A Chance to Compare and Contrast: Studying both broods simultaneously allows scientists to compare their behavior, song patterns, and susceptibility to the Massospora cicadina fungus. This comparative analysis could shed light on the evolutionary adaptations that led to their distinct life cycles.

  • Filling Knowledge Gaps: While Brood XIII has been extensively studied, Brood XIX remains less well-understood. This double emergence provides a valuable opportunity to fill knowledge gaps about its geographic range, population density, and potential variations in its life cycle compared to Brood XIII.

The combined emergence of Brood XIII and Brood XIX isn't just a spectacle; it's a scientific goldmine. By studying these fascinating creatures together, researchers can unlock new secrets about adaptation, resilience, and the delicate balance within ecosystems.

Further Exploration:

This article provides a glimpse into the world of Brood XIII cicadas and their parasitic foe. You can delve deeper by exploring recent research articles using online databases like Google Scholar. Here are some keywords to get you started:

  • "Brood XIII cicadas" and "Massospora cicadina"

  • "Brood XIX cicadas"

  • "Cicada fungus manipulation"

  • "Cicada predator populations"

  • "Cicada fungus medical applications"

By continuing to learn about these fascinating creatures, we can ensure their remarkable story continues to unfold for generations to come.


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