Long Island may see few cicadas this year

Scientists have been sounding the alarm about an invasion of cicadas this summer. Billions of the large, noisy insects are expected to return to the East Coast after a 17-year hibernation. But experts say there's a chance that Long Island might miss out on the big emergence. 

"My interest in cicadas began when I was about 5 years old when my father caught one of the annual species in Bayside, Queens, New York, and put it into my hands," Dr. Elias Bonaros, a cardiologist on Long Island.

One of his passions is studying cicadas. We spoke to him about the Brood X cicadas, which emerge every 17 years in the New York area and several other states. But this year, Bonaros and biologist Dr. John Cooley said Long Islanders may be missing out on hearing one of nature's natural noisemakers.

"Over the past couple of generations, some of those broods have really been declining and disappearing, and so we expect 2021 to be a continuation of that trend," Cooley, a professor at the University of Connecticut, said. "In 2004, there really wasn't a lot of Brood X on Long Island."

Brood X cicada molts its exoskeleton after emerging from the ground after 17 years

Bonaros said the brood failed to appear in 2004.

"There were some reports that they did come up in small populations in East Setauket and Connetquot River State Park but it was not clear if there were any breeding populations," Bonaros said. "So the prognosis for this year is guarded, let's put it that way." 

These experts say cicadas flourish in large wooded areas, and all the development across the island definitely doesn't help to ensure this brood's survival. Brood X cicadas have already started to emerge in some southern states and are slowly creeping up north, with some reported cases in New Jersey. 

While some Long Islanders may consider the presence of cicadas to be a nuisance, experts say they really are quite beneficial to our area. 

"They perform sort of an aeration in the earth as they tunnel through the earth and come up through the soil. When they come out, they provide a tremendous nutrient pulse for the environment, both flora and fauna," Bonaros said. "They actually feed every predator animal from fish to rodents to birds, squirrels, anything you can name will eat them and additionally when they die their carcasses fertilize the earth and provide a nutrient pulse for the environment."

Experts say if Brood X cicadas were to emerge on Long Island, the latest we'd see them would be early June. If they don't emerge, then plants and animals might not be as well-fed this year.

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