Periodical cicadas return this spring

Many of us are going to experience one of nature's miracles in just a few weeks. After seventeen years underground, the magicicadas will swarm and a number of us will experience their fleeting visit. Sometime in early May, (and often even a bit earlier) these insects will start to emerge in such vast numbers that they will soon be everywhere. You may think aliens from another planet have invaded, however these insects are definitely native to Earth, even though they have an otherworldly sound and appearance. The Magicicada is part of an enormous genus of insects known as cicadas, however there are two North American species that are known as periodical cicadas and these have an extended nymph period where they live underground. They are also the only ones where the wingless nymphs emerge all at once to mate and lay eggs. It is one of the greatest mysteries of Nature. How do they know when the seventeen years have passed and it is time to emerge into the sunlight?

These cicadas are harmless

These billions of insects cover the ground, the trees and plants where they emerge and their combined song is so loud that you can hear it inside homes and while going down the road in a car with closed windows. It may seem that these insects would cause a huge amount of damage, however they do not. They certainly look fierce with their beady little red eyes, orange wings, black bodies and their uncountable numbers, however they do not bite, sting or have any aggressiveness toward humans or animals. They might fly into you when you're outside, but that is just clumsy flying. They are not venomous and pose no real harm to your gardens. The only garden problem they may cause is some damage to branch tips on young trees. That's where they lay their eggs. They like the soft, young growth. If you've just planted some new trees, you might want to wrap them with some netting. If the net holes are one inch or less in diameter, the cicadas can't get inside to the branches. Netting would be good for your shrubbery too, however, remember that the pollinators need the flowers for food, so it is a judgment call you'll have to make. Even then, the damage is highly unlikely to kill or cause permanent damage to the tree. You may get some browning on the branch tips that can be pruned off. They prefer branches about pencil width, so if you have very young saplings, you might want to cover the whole tree. This goes for shrubs as well. You can also wrap trunks with sticky tape to keep them from crawling up to lay their eggs. Adult cicadas do not eat, so they will not harm your flowers or vegetable crops.

emerging cicada

Billions of cicadas make a great deal of noise

During cicada season, you will hear their mating calls and huge numbers can get quite loud. In fact any loud vibration will attract them. Lawnmowers and power tools will often bring them to your property if they aren't there already. Their mating call, when billions of them are singing at the same time can reach over 100 decibels. This is the equivalent to a lawn mower motor. You can keep cicadas from collecting from around your doors and porches by using peppermint essential oil. It tends to repel them, however nothing is completely perfect. You can also use the garden hose to wash them off of the house, your patio and even your plants. They will just come back, but it does remove them for a little while. Warm spring weather tends to encourage them to emerge early, the soil temperature needs to be about 64F before the nymphs come topside. So a cool, wet spring will see the brood emerge later. The cicada season lasts about four weeks, with fewer insects the first and last week, with the middle two weeks full of their song. Keep an eye on Fido at this time, dogs think cicadas are the yummiest treat ever and will eat as many as they can get to. This ultimately leads to the dog overeating and we all know what happens when they've eaten too much. Then, there would be something else to clean up! The cicada emergence is also good for birds and small wildlife like raccoons and foxes. Even snakes find them tasty. However, the numbers are so vast, there's little chance of them making much difference in the numbers. Scientists speculate that may be a survival instinct. The long incubation period also ensures that no group of predators develops an exclusive appetite for them.

cicadas and nympg husk on a leaf

Celebrate the cicada emergence this spring

All across the fifteen states that will be affected by Brood X (each brood has a Roman numeral to identify them) people are already anticipating their arrival. There is even an app for citizen scientists to record their sightings and help the experts track the emergence. It would be a great project for the kiddos. Some of the highest concentrations of the insects will be the Del-Mar-Va area and in Indiana and Ohio. The cicada emergence is something that most are looking forward to and the app one way to get involved. The cicadas have spent seventeen years underground in the darkness. We've spend the last year cooped up in our homes. The cicada emergence is their happy celebration of their long wait underground and it seems a fitting metaphor for our long isolation from our friends and families. We're all ready to emerge into the sunshine and gather with other humans too.