On September 2, as the 9-5ers emptied out of downtown Raleigh, we gathered near the State Legislature Building to embark on an urban insect adventure.
Led by Bill Reynolds, curator of the Arthropod Zoo at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, we strolled the tree-lined sidewalks of the Legislature Complex, eyes peeled and ears tuned in quest of annual cicadas.
Unlike their periodical cousins who show up every 13 or 17 years in a given location, the annual cicadas – also known as dog-day cicadas – make a yearly appearance in late summer. You’ve probably seen the shed exoskeletons left by emerging adults on tree trunks. And most certainly you’ve heard their loud choruses from the treetops. These cicadas are responsible for the iconic buzz of summer.
Bill is a special combination of cicada guru and ninja. Carrying an insect net with a 25 foot-long handle, he would quickly locate an adult male singing high up on a tree branch, catch it with a quick flick of the wrist and immediately identify it to species.
There are 21 described species of cicadas in North Carolina – and Bill knows them all. One can encounter about 10 of those species in the greater Raleigh area. On the evening of our cicada safari, we detected (and Bill caught!) three different species in the genus Tibicen:
Linne’s cicada (T. linnei) The outer edge of the wing (green in color) is rather bowed and the species has a well-developed black stripe on the underside of its abdomen. When you look at it up close, it has 3 simple eyes on the front of its head that shine like little specks of copper. Bill and other cicada experts have evidence (based on physical characters and male songs) that this species has been hybridizing with another annual cicada species (Eastern scissor grinder, T. winnemana) in urban and suburban areas across North Carolina.