WESTFIELD, NJ -- "Fear not! We come in peace." Or so they might say.
While the emergence of cicadas in Westfield might feel like an alien invasion and their sound more akin to a space ship than a mating call, rest assured that these little visitors are not here to stay.
“The cicada phenomenon usually lasts four to six weeks, maybe as long as eight weeks … I would say that all cicada activity in Westfield should be done by mid-July, conservative estimate,” said Joseph Filo, Senior Park Naturalist of the Trailside Nature & Science Center in Mountainside, NJ.
In Westfield, the cicadas are mating and “probably laying eggs now – probably at the tail end,” explained Filo. “Adult cicadas will die soon after mating and egg laying. The female cuts 'V' shaped slits in the bark of branches and lays about 20 eggs in each. Each female lays about 600 eggs. The eggs hatch in about six to ten weeks, and the larva drop to the ground and dig into the soil. These could be seen, but they are very small, top size is about 5 millimeters long.”
“The fall doesn't harm them because they are so small and light. People might see that happening. Wear a hat,” advised Dan Mozgai, New Jersey cicada expert and owner of www.cicadiamania.com.
During this process, less mature trees may have damaged limbs as a result.
“[Cicadas] can damage young tree branches when they lay their eggs…but the overall damage is minor,” said David Williams of Williams Nursery in Westfield.
What’s that stench? Cicadas give off a foul odor when dead.
“When [cicadas] die, especially in large numbers, they stink. Pretty much like any dead creature. I would compare the smell to the dumpster behind a barbecue pork restaurant on a 95-degree day. It's important that people clean up the dead cicadas to avoid the smell. Shop vacs work,” said Mozgai.
Shrimp of the land? These creatures are a delicacy for many species.
“Cicadas are a food bonanza for wildlife,” said Filo.
“Pets, especially dogs, will gorge on cicadas. It is important to make sure they don't eat too many because they can become ill from consuming a lot, like eating too much of any food. Also, if your neighbor sprays the cicadas with pesticides and your pet eats them, they could get sick from that too,” said Mozgai.
And if you’re feeling adventurous, try one yourself!
Assuming you can find some that are pesticide-free, cicadas can be fried, boiled, broiled, baked or sautéed. One recipe says to “remove the wings (very important, they get caught in the teeth), dip in egg batter, coat with Italian bread crumbs and pan fry. They will taste very similar to eggplant,” said Williams.
While most Westfield residents won’t be snacking on them anytime soon, they certainly have a lot to say about these 17-year visitors.
“I feel really disgusted by the cicadas on one hand, because they make my skin crawl. On the other hand, it's kind of an amazing phenomenon, but I'd rather that they'd just go away at this point,” said Westfield resident Liora Zirkel.
Five-year-old Sam Belenker expressed enthusiasm for the big bugs: “They make a lot of noise that I like and they have very neat wings on their back. I think they’re great. I love cicadas!”
His sister, not so much. “They’re yucky!” said three-year-old Sophia Belenker.
Once this brood is gone, Westfielders can breathe a sigh of relief. The next outbreak won’t be for another 17 years.
“[The year will be] 2030. Cicadas are arranged by entomologists in broods based on the year of emergence. This is Brood II. There are other broods that emerge in New Jersey in other years, but none are as numerous and widespread as Brood II. Brood X last emerged in New Jersey in 2004, and Brood XIV last emerged in 2008. Both of these broods are also on a 17-year cycle,” said Filo.
To view photos and a video of cicadas by Westfield’s own David Williams of Williams Nursery, visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/williamsnursery/sets/72157633833490850/ and http://video214.com/play/u6rB9GCpFhfGnr8EO9XR0A/s/dark.