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A month ago, some Springfield residents were bracing themselves for an onslaught of cicadas. And now that St. Louis and Columbia are in the thick of the cicada population, Springfield has remained largely cicada free. KSMU’s Samuel Crowe has the details on why.
Every 13 years, the Great Southern Brood of cicadas emerges from the ground in their adult stage, mating and harmonizing for two weeks until their life cycle ends. Folks either find them fascinating and delicious or just a nuisance to their driveways and hair. But this year, while eastern Missouri plays witness to the cicada invasion, Springfield doesn’t have to. Chris Barnhart is a professor of biology at Missouri State University and speculates why.
“These cicadas are basically forest animals. Both the nymphs, that’s the juvenile stage, and the adults feed on trees. The nymphs feed on the roots of trees and the adults tap into branches, and it’s probable that they’re largely absent in areas that historically were prairie, and they’re present in areas that historically were forest.”
Barnhart explained that certain genus’ of cicadas hatch every year, but not usually at the same time as each other. However periodical cicadas, like the Great Southern Brood, do hatch simultaneously and in great numbers. Barnhart says this is merely a method of survival.
“It’s an interesting evolutionary strategy. Supposedly this has evolved because when they do emerge, there are so many of them that there’s just not enough predators to make a dent in their population. Birds get sick of them pretty quick, and therefore the cicadas don’t need to really be adapted for predator evasion.”
Rob Lawrence is a forest entomologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. He says human factors such as forest clearing could have played a role in the absence of cicadas, because it would have killed off massive populations and their food supply. Mother Nature could have played a part too.
“We had the really bad ice storms and the damage to trees. It’s hard to say that that would have an effect, but you never know about things like that that might cause some stress on the cicada population.”
Lawrence says a different, 17 year brood of cicada is expected to hit southwest Missouri in the next few years.
“That one is next expected in 2015. It’ll be over near the Joplin area. It may or may not extend into the Springfield area.
And that wait will be worth it to some. Barnhart said many Missourians cook the cicadas in pizza and ice cream, while others prefer them fried. For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.