RED HOOK, NY (Poughkeepsie Journal) --They are big. They are loud.

And if they haven't already, they are coming to a farm, a yard - or perhaps even a pizza - near you.

Theemergence of the 17-year cicada has begun in the mid-Hudson Valley, afascination for insect lovers, a nuisance to some homeowners and apotential problem for fruit tree farmers.

CarolineFincke, whose family farms the Montgomery Place Orchard in Red Hook,has found an uncommon use for the insects. On Tuesday, she showed off ahomemade pizza made with ricotta, nettles, wild leeks and, yes, friedcicadas spread over the pie like anchovies with legs.

"Howdo you like that?" she asked a group of recoiling schoolchildren fromSt. Mary's Catholic School in Wappingers Falls, who were visiting thefarm on a field trip.

Theemergence is one of nature's great mysteries, marked by both its rarityand the sheer numbers that crawl up from the earth along portions ofthe East Coast.

Cicadaspose no threat to humans. But for some, they are a crunchy, noisyannoyance, particularly in suburban areas. And for the nearly 70 applefarms in Dutchess and Ulster counties, they can threaten young trees -as well as those of other fruit tree species.

Theinsects spend most of their lives underground, feeding on tree roots.Every 17 years, they emerge as nymphs. Other broods emerge followingbriefer intervals. Thus, the 17-year cicadas have the longest lifespanof any insect.

The nymphs climb up a tree and molt. Out of that husk comes a sexually mature adult with distinctive red eyes.

Themale sings, creating a constant, whining buzz that has been measured asloud as 90 decibels - the sound of city traffic or a dial tone held upto the ear.

StephanieRadin, agriculture and horticulture leader at Cornell CooperativeExtension Dutchess County, said her office often gets calls when theinsects emerge.

"Ifind it humorous because you can hear them in the background (of thephone call)," Radin said. "Somebody can be in a room with the windowsclosed and you can still hear them in the background because theirsinging is so loud."

The insects begin to emerge when the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees at about 8 inches down.

Theinsects do not bite and pose no health threat. Indeed, by the time theparty is over in midsummer, the legions of husks and dead adults willhave provided food for other wildlife and nutrients for soil.

They can be problematic for farmers of fruit trees, however.

Thefemales slice open and lay their eggs in the branches of first- andsecond-year wood. When they start to lay eggs, they weaken branches.

The eggs hatch. The nymphs drop to the ground, burrow in and start feeding on the roots for another 17-year cycle.

Whatis left is a weakened branch that may not be able to bear the weight offruit once the apples or other fruit start to increase in size.

"Whenthey start breaking and fruit starts raining down, then it becomes aproblem," said Peter Jentsch, an extension associate at CornellCooperative Extension's Hudson Valley Lab in Highland.

Youngfruit trees are most at risk. At Montgomery Place Orchards, Adam Finckesaid his family planted 350 new apple trees this year that could be atrisk from the masses of cicadas starting to emerge from the ground.

Farmershave a couple of options to hold back the damage - cover the trees withnetting, or spray them with a certain class of insecticides that repelthe cicadas. One such class, pyrethroids, are synthetically derived fromchrysanthemums.

"Since they are out only every 17 years, they have zero resistance," Fincke said.

The insects do provide one benefit to farmers.

"It keeps the birds from trying to eat the crops because they are going to be gorging on the insects," Fincke said.

Scientists only have theories as to why the insects emerge when they do.

Bymating en masse, they defeat predators with sheer numbers. One studysuggests they emerge when avian predator species are at low levels.

Beyond the theories, the insect's peculiar pattern remains one of nature's enduring mysteries.

"I tell people it happens just once every 17 years," Radin said, "so embrace it."

Read or Share this story: