The bugs are coming. This is the year of the locusts.
Actually, these cicadas have been around all along, but have yet to emerge from underground. They come out of hiding, taking to the bushes and trees once every 17 years.
William Wilcox, water resource planner for the Martha's Vineyard Commission, is getting ready and he'd like the community to do the same. Just listen for their sound and watch for their appearance. He'd like to document all the reports.
There is nothing to be alarmed about, the Vineyard is not going to experience activity parallel to what happens to communities in the South. Still, this is worth watching.
Gus Ben David, director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, has seen them. Their scientific name is Magicicada septendecim. "Down south they come out by the zillions," Mr. Ben David said. "It is unbelievable to read accounts of their appearance."
Here? Mr. Wilcox said the cicadas are expected to appear in several areas on the Vineyard. Seventeen years ago, Mr. Wilcox worked as an extension service county agent and performed a search for the creatures near the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest.
Tim Simmonds is the state restoration ecologist for the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. Seventeen years ago, Mr. Simmonds worked for Sheriff's Meadow Foundation in property management. "I remember them," Mr. Simmonds said yesterday. There were cicadas in Vineyard Haven, he recalled: "We saw them out near West Chop Woods."
Mr. Simmonds said he saw an interesting creature feeding on the cicadas. "It was a huge cicada killer wasp," he said. He said he watched the creature stun the cicada and then bury it in a hole in the ground.
There are cicada reports in the Gazette going back years, most of them involving sightings near the airport. One story reports sea gulls moving into the forest to feed. Others report sightings along the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road.
Mr. Wilcox said these animals make their appearance above ground only to mate. They spend the remainder of their lives underground, doing their feeding. "The larvae feed on the roots of whatever trees are in the area."
More Vineyarders will hear the cicadas than see them. Their sound has been described as shrill. Another account describes their sound as a "high-pitched monotonous hum."
In June 1951, the Vineyard Gazette reported: "The year of the locusts is at hand. Continuing reports from the Great Plains, especially around the airport, indicate that the shrill-voiced cicada, known also as the 17-year locust - has invaded the Island. Such a Vineyard invasion was predicted a few months ago by the Reader's Digest."
It is Mr. Wilcox's hope that this year will be different. With the help of residents of the community, he'd like to know where these creatures appear. Mr. Wilcox expects the first to show up around May 22. "They will emerge from the middle of May to the middle of June. They come out to mate and do no real damage," he said. After the adult insects mate and lay eggs, they soon die, and a new subterranean cycle is begun.