Dog Days of Summer

When I was a young girl, I collected insects. Mostly the pretty ones; butterflies, moths and the like. I had the killing jars, the mounting boards and, thanks to my high school science teacher Mr. Orr, I had professional insect mounting pins – not my mom’s short stubby sewing pins. I had a great time foraging the woods and fields in my discovery quests. I loved to freak out my friends by placing a couple of empty cicada shells on my clothes – or for greater impact – on my friends! I was in seventh heaven when I took my entomology class in college.

While tending to the ‘back 40′ last week I discovered an unusual sight: a newly emerged cicada nymph crawling on the ground. Bug geek that I am, I gave it a bit of help and placed it on a vertical surface to assist the molting process. I knew I was about to witness some cool stuff – the emergence of a dog-day cicada (Tibicen spp.).

If you want to skip the background on a cicada’s life-cycle, proceed to the photos below. A dog-day cicada starts its life when a mated female slices into a twig with her ovipositor and deposits her eggs. Newly hatched nymphs will drop to the ground and spend the next 2-5 years underground dining on root juices. Yum! (For comparison, the famous periodic cicada broods spend 13 or 17 years underground, depending on the species. Remember 2004?) They are very capable diggers and spend much of their life 1-8 feet down under chillin’ out. Lately, I’ve seen quite a few of the 1/2″ wide exit holes so the dog days of summer must be here. Under one hosta alone, I noted 8 empty shell cases.

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