Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Phenology Post for August 5: Jar Fly or Annual Cicada

Though I've had that feeling that's sometimes called "under the weather," or "the lazies" or "fighting the flu" (actually it's been some other mild infection), since the first of August the weather in my part of the world hasn't been all that oppressive. Daytime highs in the 80's (Fahrenheit), overnight lows sometimes dipping below 70, humidity bearable; some very pleasant days, although last night we had thunderstorms.

Yesterday we had some e-fun with the flowers known as naked ladies, which resemble lilies but grow on bare stalks without visible leaves. Someone who lives near Grandma Bonnie Peters' home has planted them, some years. There's no evidence that they'll be blooming this year. Flowers that are blooming include mimosas, myrtle, roses, a few day lilies, lots of chicory and clover and Queen Anne's Lace. At the Cat Sanctuary the native dayflowers now outnumber the imported species.

Some birds are flying and singing again. Wrens, sparrows, the mockingbirds that make it so much more of a challenge to identify the wrens and sparrows in the trees. Cardinals. This morning I saw a blue jay, looking very blue in the light of sunrise.

However, what we're hearing the most of, in the local woods, are still the large insects locally known as "jar flies." Field guides identify them as annual cicadas. They are classified as biological cousins to the periodical cicadas, having a similar body shape and a similar but shorter life cycle, but they're much bigger than periodical cicadas and are active every year.

If your browser supports such things, at this Wikipedia page you may see an endlessly repeating time-lapse video showing an adult cicada crawling out of its juvenile skin, along with other fun facts about cicadas:

Humans can eat cicadas if they're hungry enough. Birds, mice, and squirrels eat them. Many of the Cat Sanctuary cats eat them. We also occasionally see a large wasp whose official English name is "Cicada Killer." An alternate name is "sand hornets," because they live in burrows in sandy soil and can be as big as hornets. Unlike hornets, Cicada Killers don't attack humans; they're big enough to nip, jab, or sting in self-defense, but seldom do. I have most often seen them carrying cicadas to their burrows. According to Wikipedia, the female Cicada Killer is able to predict the gender of her young--possibly by the size of the eggs, since females are bigger than males--and places one cicada in each chamber of her burrow that contains a male egg, two or three in each chamber with a female egg. She then seals off the chamber with sand and presumably wishes her babies well; she won't live through the winter and see any of them hatch.

Cicadas are mostly harmless, although their probosces are sharp and can feel like a pinprick. Although each female cicada kills a twig when she lays her eggs in it, under normal conditions this does no harm to the tree.