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Cicada emergence as varied as your location

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When Spencer Campbell leaves his office at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, he is almost surrounded by cicadas.

“I almost cannot walk without stepping on them,” the Plant Clinic manager at the arboretum said.

Just a few miles away, in Kane County, for example, some people have yet to see their first cicada.

Such is the unpredictability and uneven nature of the emergence of the 17-year life cycle insect that will devour young trees, but is not dangerous – maybe just annoying – to humans.

“It’s not evenly spread throughout the area,” Campbell said.

Historically, the insects have been seen more heavily in DuPage County, where there a lot of mature trees, rather than in Kane County, where there is more recent construction and a lot of agricultural land.

The cicadas spend 17 years in the ground, feeding on tree roots. When they emerge every 17 years, they look for more trees to feed on, and then mate. If an area, such as farmland or developed land, does not have a lot of trees, they likely would not be in that area.

People living in an area of newer construction might be in a place where the insects were disturbed when the ground was dug up.

Campbell said the insects do not fly very far from their original location, maybe about a half-mile from where they come up from the ground. So it is possible some will see a lot of cicadas in their yards or nearby areas, and others will not.

In some places in the world, New York City, for example, there was so much development over the years that the bugs are no longer there. It’s called being “locally extinct,” Campbell said.

And while some consider the insects to be ugly, Campbell said there is a beauty to them in their uniqueness.

“They don’t bite, they don’t sting, you can handle them,” he said.

Which makes them perfect for study by young children in school groups, or just for fun. Campbell said on a recent day at the arboretum, some four to five school groups came through, and Campbell asked, “who wants to see a cicada?”

Some of the adults were a bit reticent, but the children were all on board. It speaks to the inquisitive nature of children, the natural curiosity people are born with.

“So we can tap into that curiosity,” he said.

Which is what area organizations that deal with nature are doing.

The Fox Valley Park District, for example, is having a Cicada Social featuring activities and even ice cream dedicated to the rare insects. It will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. June 8 at the Red Oak Nature Center, 2343 River St. in North Aurora.

The Kane County Forest Preserve District is holding an event called The Cicadas Are Coming from 4 to 5 p.m. June 18 at the Fabyan Forest Preserve West, 1925 Batavia Ave. (Route 31) in Geneva. The event is free, but to register, go to www.kaneforest.com/register.

Interest in the insect emergence is worldwide, prompting actual tourism based around traveling to places where the insects are emerging.

“We get calls from all around the world from people who want to visit where (the cicadas) are,” Campbell said. “I just got a call from Canada today.”

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