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It's a bug's life as cicadas make their comeback in Central Texas for dog days of summer

Posted at 10:48 AM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-16 11:48:11-04

CENTRAL TEXAS — It's an unmistakable sound.

After living underground cicadas are now perched on trees above ground and looking for love with their high-pitched mating call.

For Dr. Laura Weiser Erlandson, it's music to her ears, "Summer of the cicadas, yes!"

This Texas A&M Central Texas biology professor who chairs the Department of Science and Math is an Entomologist, a.k.a. a bug expert. She even has butterflies on her shirt.

"Oh, big old beetle," said Erlandson.

You might even call her the 'bug lady.'

"This one I found in Costa Rica. It was already dead," said Erlandson.

But there was a time when she would bug out.​

"I was afraid of insects when I was a kid," said Erlandson.

Then, college came along.

"I had a professor that said, 'hey it's easy, it's interesting, let's do it,' and I said ugh, God, no," Erlandson said.

That professor helped her turn a page and a sort of metamorphosis set in.

"And I realized just how fascinating they are, their behavior, their evolution," said Erlandson. "She got me hooked."

Sparking a fascination about all things creepy crawly.

She has a whole collection for teaching, including some nightmarish wasps.

"They're huge, yes! These two students have collected for me and they're basically in pristine condition," said Erlandson.

Those aren't the only predators.

Praying mantis's along with the unanimously disgusting live cockroaches.

She also has a private collection.

"Those I do not let the students touch," said Erlandson.

One of the standout specimens, a walking stick.

"Let's move this one over because this one's actually pretty cool," said Erlandson.

Eye-catching scarab beetles, highly revered in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians worshipped them.

But right now, it's all about those rowdy cicadas.

"Haha. The cicadas were so loud," said Erlandson.

'Dr. E,' as her students call her, says the dog-day cicadas appear every year in Central Texas.

The blaring sound they make comes from their timbal membrane.

"As these muscles pull in, it's going to pop and then vibrate," said Erlandson.

The more popular cicadas known as Brood X this summer only appear every 17 years.

"It's the amount of time the larvae take to actually develop underground," said Erlandson.

But the cicadas here in Central Texas come out every single year during the dog days of summer. That's why they call them the dog-day cicadas.

And those you'll see all over the place like stuck to a fence or side of a house.

They shed off their outer layer and sprout wings as they mature into adulthood.

"Their main purpose is to find a mate, lay eggs, and then die," said Erlandson.

A bug's life, coming to an end.

Most peoples' take on it is icky and gross but not to birds. They eat cicadas.

Dr. E's overall lesson, these annoying and ugly bugs each play a vital role in the food chain.

"Absolutely fascinating," said Erlandson.

And they're totally harmless. She would prefer you keep that in mind before you think about squashing one.

Cicadas live for several weeks after they crawl up from underground.

There should still be plenty of them hanging around when students return to the lab at A&M Central Texas on August 23.