Those of you in warmer areas are already enjoying the nighttime songs of malecicadas—but in most areas those bugs are just members of the'annual'variety who come out every year in fairly small numbers. THISyear,cicada singing will reach a crescendo almost as loud as a rock and roll concert in some regions when we hit prime time in June and the PERIODICALCICADA members of "Brood X" (for the Roman numeral '10')join the chorus in parts of fifteen states from New York to Georgia to Illinois.The emergence has already begun in
Here's a link to a great "Brood X" map. You'll find others on the Web, and your local news should also be alerting you if you're in an emergence area. But be warned—researchers are expanding and adding to the regions that may host this horde every day, so if you're anywhere near a known emergence area, it would be prudent to be prepared.
Now,these so-called "17 year locusts" really did burrow underground as widdle bitty babies all the way back in 1987. But their common name is wrong! These are NOT locusts or grasshoppers of any kind; they will notdevour your landscape and turn your raised beds into a Dust Bowl. But there ARE a few plants that COULD be harmed, especially at egg-layingtime, so stay tuned…
The Periodical Cicadas Amazing Life Cycle
The imminent emergence of this Brood, the largest of all the 'clans' of 17-year cicadas, has entomologists all a-ga-ga. Yeah, some of them researchers probably don't get out much, but this is big. When this Brood emerges from the ground there may be as many as a million and a half bugs in a single acre of earth!
Almost pure white when they emerge, each one will climb upon a shrub, tree, or screen door and then split their outside shell open. Like a great magic act (their scientific name is "Magicicada"!), a giant,red-eyed bug will emerge from this exoskeleton, and after a few days,take flight. The males sing their song, the females come along, and later they'll lay their eggs in the branches of trees and shrubs. Those eggs will quickly hatch, the rice-sized babies will drop and burrow deep, feed slowly on roots,and won't emerge to finally see the sun again until 2021!
Watch for the Holes and Mud Tubes!
The periodic cicadas beginning to emerge all around us have been underground for a true 17 years, feeding so slowly and gently on plant roots that they never harm their hosts. Biologically triggered to emerge when the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees, they burrow to the surface, leaving lots of little holes in their wake. Don't worry, these holes should quickly fill in. (If any don't, DO fill them in yourself— yellowjacket queens search out such holes to build their nasty nests in).
If it rains around emergence time in your area, you'll see a much more amazing sight. Instead of holes, the ground will be covered with little mudtubes—some as tall as eight inches—that the baby cicadas build to escape drowning in the rain. Either way, the cicadas will emerge at sunset—often all at once, which is quite a sight—escape their exoskeletons, and begin their mating ritual.
New Trees and Shrubs SHOULD be protected!
Remember,'17 year locusts' are cicadas, NOT locusts, and won't descend like a biblical plague onto your tomatoes and petunias; your lawn and garden are not at any risk.
Theymight, however, harm younger trees and shrubs a little bit when they feed (gently) as adults; and then more so when the females lay their eggs in the branches of young trees and shrubs. Especially at risk are young fruit trees—their favorite sites for egg laying. Established plantings are not in danger—even if the number of cicadas on them looks pretty scary mid June. But those new (let's say anything less than 3 or 4 years in the ground) trees and shrubs should be protected with spun polyester row covers like Reemay, mosquito netting, old curtains or a spray of one of those new liquid clay fruit tree protectors, like Gardens Alive's "Surround at Home". Get that material ready NOW, and put it on when the sound of the million-plus-bugs-an-acre gets serious.
Clean-Up Details & a June Wedding WARNING!
The trees will be filled with singing cicadas for the next month or so, and then the ground will be littered with their bodies by July. DO clean these up promptly,or they will start to smell. And DO remember to protect young trees and shrubs from egg-laying females with mosquito netting or sheer curtains.
And—unless you have a GREAT sense of humor—DO plan to move outdoor weddings and parties inside or delay them till July. Here's a link to"The Cicada Wedding Planner":for details, tips and a great personal remembrance of a 1987 June wedding. Or just keep it outdoors and you'll gain an extra 'special anniversary'every 17 years!
JustDON'T spray pesticides. They won't reduce their numbers, but will poison birds and other predators looking forward to this feast. …Not to mention making them unsafe for you to eat. Hey—they're all protein; very Atkins friendly! Bake, boil, deep fry or roll 'emin a little flour and egg and sauté till golden brown. Yum!
If you're interested in trying this once every decade and three-quarters-plus-change delicacy, here's a link to a great soft-shelled cicada recipe and a 'Chinese Cicada' dish that we DARE you to say doesn't look tasty!
You Bet Your Garden ©2004 Mike McGrath