By: Gwen Roth
2021 has certainly had it's challenges and depending on your perspective, this may or may not add to those challenges, because… the cicadas are coming! The Brood X cicadas are a once every 17-year event that some people look forward to and others dread. Those that dread it, there’s good news. The cicadas are very short lived and will only be around for about 6-8 weeks.
The cicadas we will meet this spring (late April/early May) are the offspring from the last round of cicadas in 2004. While there are many species of cicadas, found on all continents, except Antarctica, the periodical cicadas are some of the most interesting. They live most of their lives as nymphs in the top 2’ of soil eating juices from plant roots and only emerge above ground after 17 years!! Once the soil has reached 64 degrees, it’s time to emerge. The cicadas will crawl up a tree and molt for the final time, leaving their nymph exoskeleton behind. When they first molt, their skin and wings are a whitish color and it takes a few days for their exoskeleton to harden and to develop the darker colors.
Once their exoskeleton has hardened, it’s time to find a mate. The males use a body part called a tymbal to make a buzzing, clicking noise to attract females. The females have no tymbal but click their wings to signify to a male she is ready to mate. After mating, the female will use a special body part called an ovipositor to make a small slit in a tree branch (she prefers branches about 1/4”-3/8” in diameter) and lays a cluster of eggs, usually about 20-25 per slit. She will continue up the branch or to another tree, make another slit and deposit more eggs, continuing this process, she can lay up to 600 eggs before dying. The eggs will hatch inside the tree branch in about 6-10 weeks and the tiny nymphs will fall to the ground. The nymphs will use their legs to dig into the ground and feast on plant roots for the next 17 years until it is their time to emerge. The adult cicadas only live for about 4 weeks. Imagine spending 17 years underground and only 4 weeks above.
While many people in the tri-state may be dreading the cicada emergence, its good to know they are harmless to humans. Other than being loud and maybe annoying, they can’t sting or bite us and really just want to reproduce. They become a meal for many animals, including birds, frogs, fish, squirrels, reptiles, spiders and even people (if you’re in to that). If you have young trees or fruit trees, it is a good idea to cover them with a netting to help protect them. Older, more established trees are not as affected by cicadas and should survive just fine. Please do not use pesticides to try to kill them. Remember, they are here for a very short period of time and pesticides can kill many of our beneficial pollinators as well.
You can become a citizen scientist this spring and help track the emergence of the Brood X cicadas. Check out http://cicadasafari.org/ and download the Safari Cicada app. You can also use the hashtags #BroodX or #BroodXCicadas in social media.
Just remember, we have such a short time together with these cicadas and we won’t see them again for 17 years, let’s make the most of it.