A group of colorful cicadas has been documented for the first time in the state. Naturalist Robert Sanders explains what these insects are and how you can hear them.
What are they?
The group of cicadas known as “Brood VIII” (“eight”) is made up of one species, Magicicada cassini. The species has a black body, bright orange wings and red eyes.
“They look nothing like the cicadas we’re used to seeing,” said Robert Sanders, a naturalist who has been studying Oklahoma’s cicadas for six years and helped locate the brood.
Previously, the group was documented only in parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Where did they come from?
Magicicada cassini is a type of 17-year cicada, because it emerges from the ground once every 17 years for a short period of time.
According to Sanders, groups of cicadas are assigned numbers--called brood numbers--based on the timing of their 17-year cycles. Oklahoma’s largest brood, Brood IV (“four”), last came out in 2015 and is scheduled to re-emerge in 2032.
“[Cicadas are] really good about emerging the same day every 17 years, but if they come out of sync, they’re called stragglers,” he said.
Sanders said Brood VIII likely started from a few Brood IV stragglers--cicadas from that group that stayed above ground longer than normal.
Why has no one seen or heard them before?
Sanders said Oklahoma has 41 different cicada species--the fourth-highest number in the country after California, Texas and Arizona. He is working on a field guide.
“[Brood VIII] probably had been found before, but for something that comes out and makes a lot of noise for just a couple of weeks every 17 years, it’s easy to go unnoticed and undocumented,” he said.
“People just chalk it up to, ‘Hey, the bugs are noisy right now.’”
What do they sound like?
“Only male cicadas sing,” said Sanders. “So for every one you hear, there’s a female out there that you don’t hear.”
Males use specific songs, called Courtship I and Courtship II, to attract mates. The songs include pauses where the interested female cicada can flick her wings, making a snapping noise. Courtship III is “their happy dance song.”
“Whenever all [of] these periodicals are in a tree...it’s just mayhem out there,” said Sanders.
Magicicada cassini’’s songs are archived here.
Where can I hear them?
Sanders recommends southwest Oklahoma, specifically just off I-44 near Medicine Park and Lawton. The brood has also been spotted in the northeast part of the state at the Oxley Nature Center and near the Tulsa Zoo. Sanders said cicadas are most active at the hottest time of the day.
He also posts regular cicada sightings and updates on the Oklahoma Cicadas page.
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