Cicada hawks a month early – another sign of climate change?

July 2, 2009

Well I remember summer camp as a Boy Scout, annually at Maple Dell, a few miles up Payson Canyon, Utah.  Troop 17 camped the week of July 4th, by tradition.  Most other troops avoided that week so families could get together on the holiday — there would be half the usual number of Scouts, and we had a lot more opportunities to hit the rifle range, archery range, rowboats and canoes.  Over four years, we noticed that the annual cicada invasion would usually start near the end of that week, as the Utah heat started its march toward August records.  It was a good week to camp, to avoid the heat and the astounding noise of those insects.

As an Explorer, and junior camp staff member later, I spent entire summers at Maple Dell.  We’d start in early June, when the Payson River still ran icy from the snow runoff, and when our sleeping bags would be coated with frost in the morning.  Cicadas in July said it was warming.  Cicadas in August screamed it was hot — sometimes near 100° F, a dramatic shift from the frost just eight weeks earlier.

In Maryland, one year we lived through the confluence of the 13-year and 17-year locusts, which are related to cicadas. (Bug Girl?  You out there?  Help me out on these details.)  The adults would literally coat trees.  They’d mate and die, and fall to the street, where cars would smush them — driving was more treacherous than driving on ice.  What few predators there were — and the predators seemed awfully few in relation to the billion locusts per acre — would eat their fill, and then ignore the rest of the mob.  The locusts came earlier than the cicadas, as I recall — but still later in the summer.

A post I wrote two years ago has been getting a lot of hits. In late July 2007 I wrote of the return of the cicada hawks, here in Dallas.  Each summer since, about the time the cicada hawks return, people start cruising the web to find out how to get rid of them, mostly (don’t, they’re practically harmless).   As I watched the traffic counts, I noticed that I had posted it on July 20 back in 2007.  I wrote that the wasps had been around for about ten days, then.  Last year I posted a welcome to the wasps on July 8.

Cicada killers at Boisenberry Lane, Dallas

Cicada killer wasps on Boisenberry Lane, Dallas, 2008 - copyright Ed Darrell

I saw my first cicada-killer wasp in 2009 about  June 10.  We didn’t have cicadas, then, that I could find.  The cicadas started buzzing on June 21, the first day of summer.  Our backyard is quite busy with cicada hawks right now, tracking down the cicadas and digging the holes in which to store the cicada zombies.

I hate to crash the denialists’ parties, but it sure seems to me that this cicada season thing is moving up.  The tilt of the Earth is still 23°.  The amount of daylight is the same.  What factors other than climate warming would cause these insects to come earlier each year?  What’s your experience?

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100 Tall Texans

July 2, 2009

The exhibit left the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library in March 2007 — but the good folks who run the library left an on-line version.  It’s a gallery of 100 photographic portraits of important Texans.  Click on the photo, you get a short biography of each person.

Red Adair, pioneer in putting out oil field fires - Image from George H. W. Bush Presidential Library

Red Adair, pioneer in putting out oil field fires - Image from George H. W. Bush Presidential Library

Red Adair holds the first spot on the list, and ZZ Top occupies the last (the list is alphabetical).  The list is eclectic, and useful.  The list focuses on the 20th century, leaving out the usual Texas luminaries Austin, Houston and de Zavala, and that’s good.  This is a great list for junior high Texas history students to use, for learning Texas history, or for selecting the “famous Texan” who will be the subject of their biography project.

A handful of these people are commonly reported on in classrooms.  Most are not, however. You’ll learn more about Texas folklore and Texas’s Mexican heritage in music from these short biographies than you can learn in many Texas history courses.   Adair to ZZ Top, including John Henry Faulk, John Nance Garner, Walter Cronkite, Bobby Layne, Janis Joplin, Scott Joplin, Michael DeBakey, George Foreman, Lydia Mendoza, Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins, Hector Garcia, and Bessie Coleman, and 86 others.  All the major Texas industries are represented, and all parts of Texas.  If a student knew all of these people, the student would have a heck of a bunch of Texas knowledge.

Bessie Coleman, worlds first licensed black pilot - image from the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library

Bessie Coleman, world's first licensed black pilot - image from the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library

Use this exhibit to broaden your knowledge of Texas history, or to invent new teaching points.  A savvy teacher could use these to create 100 bell ringers, I suspect — and do a lot more.

It would be great if the library were to publish a poster featuring the 100 portraits.  Anybody in College Station listening?

How do you use this exhibit in your classroom?


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