Almost as fast as this summer’s coming of the cicadas came and went, so did all news about it. But thanks to Victoria St. Martin’s article in The Star-Ledger a few days ago, I have an explanation for the mass of brown, dead leaves that hang from the trees in my yard – not unlike Christmas ornaments made out of paper bags. The cicadas did it!
I noticed this weeks ago. At first I thought it must be a weather-thing. The poor trees. We’ve been living in the extremes for a while now – alternating heat, cold. Drenching rain; whole-tree-toppling winds. And the trees must be suffering for it. But there’s something about the synchronicity of the brown deadness, and the resulting, natural, designedly-spaced, dark tips – like freckles. There is also a hint of a reddish hue to the leaves. And they’re not falling off the trees, despite a few doses of “tree-toppling winds.”
Turns out these leaves aren’t really dead – the cicadas just sucked the life out of them.
According to Ms. St. Martin:
The swarms of cicadas that infiltrated New Jersey have pretty much died off, but the eggs they laid in their short stay are now beginning to hatch — the precursor to their offspring setting an alarm clock for 2030 … Experts say that just before adult female cicadas die, they poke several holes in the end of tree branches and lay up to 600 eggs. The act cuts off the water and food supply to the tree, causing the leaves to turn brown.
The article continues to explain that these holes are made, “with tubes that are attached to their bodies … they can lay 25 eggs in each of the holes, which are as small as a pinprick, and the nymphs that emerge from them are as tiny as a grain of rice.”
Apparently, the nymphs then jumped out of the trees and bore down into the ground for the next 17 years – until 2030 – when they will return in, perhaps, even bigger numbers than this year.
So, in my backyard of six or seven said trees – each dead leaf, in each cluster of 30 or more dead leaves, means that those branches were drilled with dozens of pin-prick size holes. And each female cicada (remember there were billions of them this year – so I’d guess half were female), can lay up to 600 eggs. Quite remarkable.
I don’t know where I’ll living be in 2030, at the ripe old age of 75. But I hope all my trees are still here, and ready for the onslaught of those grounded nymphs, when they bore up, climb up, grow up, propagate, and eventually “leave.”