As the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are on the wane, just in case you’ve been wondering why a predicted appearance of periodical cicadas didn’t materialize, an expert on insects has some answers.
John Wenzel, director of the Carnegie Museums’ Powdermill Nature Reserve near Ligonier in Westmoreland County, taught entomology – the study of bugs – for nearly 20 years at Ohio State University.
Wenzel, who doesn’t live too far from his workplace, said in an interview this week that he was among those who were inundated by the buggy Brood VIII earlier this summer.
As a research station, the nature reserve hosted itinerant scholars who actually track and report sightings of the emerging insects far and wide on their Cicada Mania web page.
The size of the swarm numbered in the “thousands and thousands,” he said.
When warnings of Brood VIII cropped up earlier this year, what most news stories failed to report was that if you experienced cicada swarms in 2016, you weren’t going to see them this summer unless, like the Cicada Maniacs, you traveled.
Brood V was what we in Washington and Greene counties experienced in 1999 and 2016, the year that West Virginia University celebrated cicadas with a festival in Morgantown featuring science seminars, bug-eyed red balloon dooly boppers for kids, and insect edibles.
“Some people were inundated,” Wenzel said of this year’s brood. “There were places with enormous densities, and you can go not very far at all and find none.”
In the Pittsburgh area, the cicadas emerged “north of Route 8, Sewickley had a lot, and there was a pretty heavy band from Indiana to New Florence to Ligonier,” Wenzel continued. Cicada Mania listed infestations in Elizabeth and Round Hill Park in the Mon Valley and from Apollo and Blairsville to Yellow Creek State Park among their sightings.
The fact that a cicada brood emerges only once every 17 years makes them difficult to study, but in years one through 17, they’re showing up somewhere.
There was some talk among laymen attributing a lack of cicadas, colloquially known as “17-year locusts,” to some sort of blight.
“I don’t really think so,” Wenzel said of that theory, “although the insects’ long lifespan might be affected by long-term use of pestcides and insecticides.”
Development on land that formerly hosted the cicadas’ preferred habitat, large hardwoods such as maples and oaks, could also be a culprit.
“Someone clears that acreage and builds a house, that would be a disaster to them,” Wenzel said.
The Cicada Mania website mentioned the cool, wet spring as possibly dampening Brood VIII, but Wenzel actually measured soil temperature and found the bugs emerging at less than the publicized 64-degree threshold.
So if you missed the Brood VIII swarm, take heart.
There are still cicadas around, but they’re not the periodical variety.
“We have an awful lot of singing insects,” Wenzel said, among them, “the dog day cicada, because it comes out in August.”
Wenzel is good at onomatopoeia, the vocal imitation of what he called “acoustic insects.”
Dog day cicadas chirp a “long pish pish pish in daytime,” Wentzel said.
This is not to be confused with noise at nightfall, when katydids can be really loud, making what Wentzel said is a “chup chup chup.”
And then there are male tree crickets, which emit “a sustained high-pitched constant trill,” according to Wenzel’s description.
This curtain of clatter, of course, has a purpose, and it’s summer love.
“The males are calling females,” Wenzel said, and amidst this cacophony, “Somehow the females choose a male. You know how peacocks have the beautiful feathers? The males sing and somehow the females are judging them on that.”
MONESSEN – Council members authorized the city administrator and solicitor to explore the process to file for state help under an act meant to aid financially distressed communities.
Acting Mayor and Councilman Tony Orzechowski said the fact-finding mission is only precautionary at this time.
“Monessen is still struggling financially, and we need to know how this process works, in case we have to consider Act 47,” he said.
Under the act, distressed communities can receive loans and grants as well as assistance to formulate a financial recovery plan, according to the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
Several communities have received Act 47 help since its adoption more than three decades ago, though none in Washington, Westmoreland, Fayette or Greene counties.
Orzechowski stressed that the city isn’t ready to ask for state help, as officials are still hopeful that their comprehensive plan will help keep Monessen out of bankruptcy.
“We hope our comprehensive plan will give us some ideas for revitalizing our city,” he said.
Councilwoman Lois Thomas said about 30 city residents attended a community meeting last week to review updates to the plan.
“During the meeting, the group narrowed down a list of ideas to four key priorities,” she said. “We will be scheduling focus groups to further discuss these ideas. So far, we have identified our problems and targeted major blight areas. We are hopeful that funding will be available to implement some of these projects.”
In an unrelated matter, council members said they hope to move forward with a plan to sell a large group of city-owned properties that were obtained several years ago from the Westmoreland County Real Estate Repository.
Solicitor Joseph Dalfonso said most of the 400 properties are vacant lots. He made a recommendation to give first priority to city residents who want to buy an adjacent property.
“Our rationale is that someone who lives next door will be more inclined to take care of the property than someone who lives across town or out of town,” he said. “The goal is to eliminate blight and put these vacant properties back on the tax roll.”
Dalfonso said the city would sell the properties using a sealed bid process, with a minimum bid of $400 for each.
“That will alleviate a problem if two adjacent neighbors are interested in buying the same property,” he said. “If no bids are received from adjacent property owners, we will open up the bids to outsiders.”
Dalfonso said the city still needs to determine how it will advertise the properties. Once council finalizes preparations, it will display a map of the vacant properties at city hall.
In other business:
Mon Valley Hospital was one of five separate public places in Washington and Allegheny counties that received bomb threats Thursday night.
Officials from the hospital, which is located in Carroll Township, said someone made the threat about 9:30 p.m.
Following hospital policy, staff swept the campus upon receiving the threat. Police and other emergency agencies were called in immediately.
Searches there and at the other locations revealed no bombs.
“Patient care was not affected,” said hospital spokeswoman Alyssa Zenobi.
The threats to the other locations – St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison Township, the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh and D’s Six Pack and Dogs, a restaurant-bar in Swissvale – were reported to Allegheny County 911.
The threats occurred within a 90-minute window starting about 8 p.m.
Carroll police Chief Paul Brand said the FBI office in Speers was notified and sent someone to Mon Valley Hospital. He said his department is working with the bureau and counterparts in Allegheny County in the investigation.
Allegheny County police said the locations each received multiple calls, some of which sounded like recordings, from the same number with a Maine area code.
The calls weren’t necessarily made from that state, police added. The speaker was described as male and seemed to be the same person in each instance.
The threat against Mon Valley Hospital was made to the institution’s main operator line, Zenobi said.
She said local police and other agencies responded immediately. Patients were discharged if possible.
“We just kind of sped up their process so they could be in the comforts of their home and not in a stressful situation,” she said. The others remained in their rooms.
Firefighters blocked the driveways, but employees who were arriving for a shift change were let in if they showed identification. Ambulances were diverted to other facilities, and the campus was cleared around 11:30 p.m.
St. Clair spokesman Bob Crytzer said the hospital received a “non-specific” threat at about 9 p.m.
“Out of an abundance of caution and in keeping with established policy, St. Clair Hospital was searched and no explosive devices were found,” Crytzer added. “St. Clair worked closely with law enforcement to ensure everyone’s safety.”
He said the incident didn’t disrupt patient care. Ooperations were back to normal by 11:10 p.m.
Catherine Policicchio, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Pittsburgh, said the agency was “aware of the situation and we’re always helping our partners, and any other information would have to come from them.”