Missing Magic




Mike Boslet

Q: What happened to the old McNamara Pontiac sign on West Colonial Drive?

 

A: Although the McNamara car dealership has been closed for years, the 35-foot-high neon sign has remained in place (albeit dark), a classic symbol of yesteryear. In May, however, the McNamara family donated the 5,500-pound sign to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, which took it down for safekeeping.

Once some restoration work is done, the museum will add the Pontiac jewel to its collection of old displays at its Winter Park warehouse. Other local signs that have been preserved by the Morse over the years include Ronnie’s, Harper’s Tavern and Orange Court Motor Lodge. And all three still light up. 

 

Q: Did Florida miss out on the great cicada invasion?

 

A: Indeed we did. The cicadas that caused a stir in states north of us are known as periodicals—genus Magicicada—emerging from the ground in “broods’’ every 13 or 17 years. A couple of months ago, a 17-year brood came crawling out by the billions from northern Georgia to New York, shed their exoskeletons, flew up into the trees, got loud, mated, laid eggs and died after a few weeks. In 2014, a 17-year group will come out in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, and a 13-year brood will surface in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Florida’s version of the noisy insects, on the other hand, are annuals, meaning that one species or another emerges at the end of its multiyear life cycle annually, and with little fanfare. So because we have no, uh, Orlando Magicicada, the goggle-eyed types down here don’t make a lot of news.

Periodicals thrive in deciduous forests, so Florida’s subtropical setting may be one reason the group isn’t present here, says Chris Simon, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut. “Just as with some tree species, some insect species don’t come into Florida,’’ she says.  Simon, an alum of the University of Florida and Winter Park High School, has been studying cicadas and their peculiar life cycles for nearly 40 years.

A saltmarsh cicada, one of Florida’s species, photographed in North Palm Beach. Photo: Bob Peterson

In Magicicada country, the display is a marvel of nature. When the juvenile cicadas emerge, the ground, pockmarked with holes, looks like Swiss cheese in some places (“recklessly theatrical’’ Simon calls their debut). And if you’re near a dense group of males that are “singing’’ (almost always during the day, using a pair of membranes on their abdomens), the sound can reach the decibel level of a chainsaw.

So why do they come out in such huge numbers all at once? Well, even predators like dogs, birds or raccoons can stuff themselves only so much at the cicada buffet. Nature has synchronized the insects’ emergence so that survival becomes a matter of strength in numbers, says Simon. “They are just one of the building blocks of the ecosystem,’’ she says, adding that even in death cicadas are beneficial, with their remains returning huge amounts of nutrients to the soil.

 

Answer Man welcomes your questions about the Orlando area. Send queries to answerman@orlando
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