Texans are no strangers to cicadas. One writer in 1933 proclaimed east Texas “a veritable cicada paradise,” before going on to list all the different species he had encountered here. Indeed, you would have to be hard of hearing, or very unobservant, not to notice the buzzing sounds of annual cicadas coming from nearly every summertime tree between June and August.
Even if the annual singing of cicadas is not your cup of tea, you have to marvel at the once every seventeen year emergence of the periodical cicadas. Sometimes deafening, the periodic cicadas are exceptionally abundant in their areas of emergence. Mostly Texans hear about these impressive displays of cicada firepower on national news, or remember them from youth (for those of us naturalized from other parts of the U.S.). But this year, possibly the only Lone Star periodical cicada brood is emerging along the Red River in north Texas.
“It was almost uncomfortable to listen to,” said Tim Brys of the Dallas Zoo, who recently heard and collected some of the red-eyed periodical cicadas in Fannin County.
This periodic emergence is thought to serve as a protection from predators for the tasty cicada. By emerging en masse only once every 13 years, predators like birds can only hope to harvest a small percentage of the loud, clunky and relatively slow insects.
If you’ve always wanted to see a periodic cicada emergence, this could be your year. Texas counties where the cicadas have been found in the past include Montague to Red River counties along the Red River, and further south Wise, Denton, Hunt and Kaufman counties. There is no guarantee that if you live in these counties, you will hear or see these red-eyed relics of the ice age. By some accounts, numbers of periodic cicadas are in decline, likely due to development and destruction of native tree groves that have fed these insects for thousands of years. Brys collected his Texas cicadas after hearing them along a hike to a remote area on the north Sulfur River.
You can recognize periodical cicadas by their red eyes, black bodies and orange veins on the wings. The last time the 17-year periodical cicadas were heard in Texas was 1998. A resource page on this year’s Brood IV cicadas has been set up by entomologist Mike Quinn. Relatively little is known about our Texas cicadas, so if you think you have seen periodical cicadas in your area, you can even report them here, and by all means collect some if you can (they may be dead on the ground after completing mating and egg laying). And if you want to hear the periodical cicada call before you explore, click here. For a link to sites where spotters have seen periodical cicada this year, click here.