May 1, 2019

The Summer of Cicadas

The Summer of Cicadas

Get ready for another cicada summer. For about a month this summer, cicadas will be serenading all over the eastern half of Ohio. Expect them to start showing up in mid-May and hanging around until late June.

Periodical cicada Brood VIII (Eight) has been underground and unnoticed for a long time, but they’re about to make their break (again). The last time these cicadas emerged was in 2002!

What to expect

When they first appear, which will probably be after a nice, warm rain when the temperatures are in the mid-60’s, they’ll likely be pale and red-eyed. While the brood consists of males and females, all the vocals come from the males. As is often the case, the songs’ purpose is mainly to attract females.

The Cicada Life-Cycle

This is year 17 for these cicadas, so they’ll be having a huge coming-out party. As the soil warms they will begin to work their way toward the surface from the tree roots that they’ve been feeding on since they dropped from the tree’s branches seventeen years ago.

When the soil temperatures reach about 65 degrees, they’ll creep out of the dime-sized hole they’ve dug and climb up the nearest tree (or reasonable substitutes, such as posts and walls). Once situated on whatever post they find, they’ll burst the seam of their overcoat and leave it hanging while they pause to spread and dry the wings that they’ve just uncovered. Once that’s done, they’ll climb or fly higher into the tree to find some cover and food.

What do cicadas eat?

Their food of choice is plant sap, and they reach it thru a straw-like mouth part that can penetrate roots or leaves. Their feeding doesn’t injure the plant, and it can’t injure anything else, either. However, once the serenading is over and the males have bred the females, egg-laying begins. This process can be a little tough on trees.

How do cicadas cause damage?

Females lay their eggs in slits they make in twigs, and one female can make thirty or more of these half-inch long slits. Each slit contains a dozen or more eggs, and later in the summer the eggs hatch and the tiny nymphs drop to the ground and dig in. Meanwhile, the twig often dries out and dies, which is at best a little unsightly for mature trees and at worst fatal for heavily infested small trees. Cheesecloth or fine-mesh netting is the best protection for small trees in a brood’s emergence year.

Every year there’s another species of cicada that shows up later in the summer. It’s known as the annual cicada or dog-day cicada, and while individually it’s just as noisy as the 17-year species, it’s nowhere near as numerous.

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