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After 17 Years Underground, Periodical Cicadas Soon To Emerge In Kansas City Area

Unlike the green hued annual cicada, the periodical cicada has distinctive warm toned eyes and appendages.

What were you doing in 1998? Getting down to the Top 40 chart-topper "Too Close"? Showing outrage over President Bill Clinton's adulterous proclivities? Perhaps still dealing with 56k modems to check your America Online email?

Whatever you were doing, you probably didn't know that thousands of cicadas were bedding down for an underground feeding session, from which they'll finally emerge in just a few weeks.

Periodical cicadas will soon start causing a ruckus in a region that stretches from Iowa to Texas. The Department of Conservation has been tracking a 17-year-brood and a 13-year brood of cicadas that will emerge in southeastern Missouri this year.

When these cicadas first go under, they're about the size of ants. While underground, they subsist on tree sap from roots. By the time they emerge after a 13- or 17-year cycle, they're the size of large bumblebees.

"It's an evolutionary survival technique for the species," says Missouri Department of Conservation spokesman Bill Graham. "Because [periodical cicadas emerge] every 13 or 17 years, predators aren't ready for them. There are so many of them that they can't all be eaten."

Graham says it's hard to know exactly how many cicadas will come up, but certain conditions tend to foster populations.

"They really need areas with trees with small limbs where their eggs can be laid," Graham says. "So if 17 years ago, a certain area didn't have trees, then that area likely might not have them in big numbers."

In areas where the soil hasn't been disturbed and there are plenty of trees, Graham says it's possible that hundreds or thousands of cicadas could emerge to mate in mid-to-late May. Back in 2011, the largest group of 13-year periodical cicadas emerged across Missouri in "huge numbers," according to the Department of Conservation. 

Periodical cicadas are distinguishable from green-hued annual cicadas primarily through their red and orange-toned eyes and legs.

Here's a video from the Missouri Department of Conservation showing freshly emerged cicadas in Cole County, Missouri in 2011:

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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