This spring we will see the emergence of the 13-year periodical cicadas. Some species of cicadas emerge every year and these are called annual cicadas. Some species of cicadas only emerge every 13 or 17 years and these are called periodical cicadas. They look similar to annual cicadas but can be identified by their bright red eyes. Periodical cicadas are only found in Eastern North America. Parts of our franchise area will see millions of cicadas emerge in May and June. This group of 13-year cicadas is called brood 19. These insects have spent the last 13 years as nymphs living underground feeding on the roots of plants. When the time comes, these nymphs will crawl out of the ground and onto a vertical surface to shed their skins and turn into winged adults. The males will then fly to the tops of trees and begin singing for females.
Cicadas are one of the loudest insects and the chorus of millions of male cicadas can get deafening. The last emergence of the 13-year cicadas took place in 1998, but the number of cicadas was far less than expected. Prior to that, in 1985, the mass emergence was huge. There were so many cicadas singing that you could hear them while driving down the highway with the windows up and the radio on! The adult cicadas will stick around for a couple of months while they eat and mate. They feed on the juices of trees, but do not cause any serious damage. They may cause limbs of small trees to flag and break due to the sheer number of cicadas on them. However, this usually will not kill the tree. Mated females lay their eggs on the trunks and limbs of trees and soon after all of the adult cicadas will die. The eggs hatch in a few weeks and the little nymphs fall off of the trees and bury themselves in the soil where they will live and grow for 13 years. All of these cicadas will provide a huge food resource for many animals including birds, reptiles, mammals, and other insects. You may even see the family pet munching on a few cicadas but this will not harm it.
Some people call cicadas “locusts” but this is incorrect. Locusts are a type of grasshopper that occasionally will explode their populations and devastate crops in true plague form. Because of this misnomer, many people may become concerned when others talk about millions of “locusts” emerging this spring. They can be assured that these are cicadas, not locusts, and there is no need to worry. Periodical cicadas will not bite or sting. If they are handled, they may make a loud noise but are otherwise harmless. They may be considered a nuisance by some people, but no control measures are necessary.