Cicada outbreak something to sing about

They’re shedding their nymphal skins, sprouting their wings and calling for a mate — the Blue Mountains is full of the ear splitting sound of the cicada.

There’s been an “outbreak” around Blackheath, Katoomba, Wentworth Falls and down to Springwood of the Cyclochila australasiae, also known as the Yellow Monday or Masked Bandit, over the last fortnight, not seen since 2004.

“It’s a mass emergence... you’ve got huge ones,” said Dr David Britton, collections manager at the Australian Museum.

“There have been big emergences at Blackheath and thousands of them at Wentworth Falls. The last time that happened was 2004, it’s quite over the top.”

It’s been the talk of the scientific community that the quintessential sound of summer is here early, because of hotter temperatures, Dr Britton said, with big numbers reported by local natural historians from Mt Keira in the Illawarra, Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands and even in Orange in the Central West.

“They are about two to three weeks early, it’s just been the temperature predominantly, it’s the changing climate, they respond to the warmer temperatures,” he said.

Cicadas usually have a life cycle of about six years underground feeding on sap then only live for about six weeks above ground. Birds eating the cicadas in the Mountains would be “stuffed full,” Dr Britton said. “They are probably saying, ‘Not another cicada please,’” Dr Britton said laughing.

The recent cold snap at the end of last week was unlikely to damage them and more cicadas would emerge between now and Christmas.

“Cold weather slows them down a bit, but doesn’t necessarily kill them. Most will only live for two to three weeks, they tend to burn out very fast,” he said.

Dr Britton said most cicadas have a unique call and the Mountains was lucky to have a relatively pleasant sounding cicada song, he said.

“The Razor Grinder in the coastal areas is fairly unpleasant and the Double Drummer in Sydney is incredibly loud, a piercing sound — in previous years a school in the Grampians asked how to make them [the Red Eye] stop, I said they would be better off buying ear muffs.”

Professor John Merson, the executive director of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute, agreed that with erratic weather the cicadas will behave as if it was summer and says other ecological changes should be expected.

“On average the climate is getting warmer and as a consequence extremes in weather are likely to be more common. How species will cope with this change is hard to predict. Some will move out of the regions others will move in, and so we can expect to see ecological changes as a consequence,” he said.

Habitats were threatened due to the warming climate and Mountains species like the Mountain Pygmy possum and the Giant Petaltail dragonfly could be threatened in the higher regions of eastern Australia as hanging swamps dried out and insects used for food, like the Bogong moth, stopped moving to once alpine areas, Dr Britton said.