The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Monday, May 10, 2004  

Washington’s Cicadas and the Delaware Bay’s Red Knots

I haven’t heard directly from anyone I know in the Washington, D.C., area, but from what I gather from media coverage, the cicadas are back, that after a 17-year hiatus. I lived in Washington during the bugs’ last emergence from their underground havens, and I’ll tell you, it’s one of the most bizarre, and annoying, phenomena one could ever experience. I’ll miss it this year, but I won’t miss it, miss it.

Meanwhile, New Jersey and Chilean ornithologists and conservationists are working on the mysterious decline in the population of red knots, featured in a fascinating article, “To Ends of Earth for Vanishing Bird,,” by Sandy Bauers, the Philadelphia Inquirer, May 9.

Red knots are small shorebirds that each year spend the (our) winter months in Tierra del Fuego, Chile, then fly thousands of miles north in early spring (at one stretch flying 4,000 miles without stopping), heading for the Delaware Bay where they feast on horseshoe crab eggs -- sometimes as quickly as one egg a second, or 18,000 eggs a day -- regaining energy and stores of fat in preparation for the final leg of their northward migration, from the Delaware Bay to Hudson Bay, Canada.

The population of red knots is declining and some estimates believe the species could be extinct by 2010. Scientists aren’t sure why: over-harvesting of horseshoe crabs in the Delaware Bay could be the problem, but other hypotheses include the impact of offshore oil rigs in the Southern Cone and the fall-out from pesticide use.

Whatever the reason or the outcome, the dedication of those studying the red knots is remarkable. Read the article and you’ll find yourself cheering them on.

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