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


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?

More information:

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

  1. […] “Cicada hawks a month early – another sign of climate change?” (lots of variation with the weather; need more data) […]

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  2. […] A anomaly or another sign that climate change is happening right now: Cicada Hawks are hatching early. […]

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  3. Porlock Junior says:

    No coincidence about the tiny number of predators relative to the dense swarms of periodic (13 or 17) cicadas. When you only pop up at long intervals and in vast numbers, there can’t be a large enough population of predators to make a dent in your population. What would they eat in the interim?

    Some scientists believe that this is an evolutionary adaptation. Sorry, can’t resist using one of the most infuriating phrases I know of.

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  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Thanks for dropping by, and thanks for the link, Matt. See more discussion on that topic here, too.

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  5. Matt Osborne says:

    Nothin’ screams “southern” louder than a Cicada. Yet a friend of mine currently transplanted to Indiana says he heard them in South Bend last week (!).

    I ran across this tonight. Turns out that garden manuals are already having to alter their climate recommendations. For cryin’ out loud, when Better Homes and Gardens says your planet’s getting warmer, it’s time to stop drinking the Exxon-funded Kool-Aid.

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