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The Cicadas are Coming! The Cicadas are Coming!

Thoseofyou 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 rollconcertin some regions when we hit prime time in June and the PERIODICALCICADA members of "Brood X" (for the Roman numeral '10')join thechorus in parts of fifteen states from New York to Georgia to Illinois.Theemergence has already begun in Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia!

Here'sa link to agreat "BroodX" map. You'll find others on the Web, and your localnews should also be alerting you if you're in an emergence area. But bewarned—researchers are expanding andadding to the regions that may host this horde every day, so if you'reanywherenear a known emergence area, it would be prudent to be prepared.

Now,these so-called "17 year locusts" really did burrowunderground as widdle bitty babies all the way back in 1987.  But their common name is wrong! Theseare NOT locusts or grasshoppers of any kind; they will notdevour yourlandscape and turn your raised beds into a Dust Bowl. But there ARE afewplants that COULD be harmed, especially at egg-layingtime, sostay tuned…

ThePeriodical Cicadas Amazing Life Cycle

Theimminent emergence of this Brood, the largest of all the 'clans' of17-yearcicadas, has entomologists all a-ga-ga. Yeah, some of them researchersprobablydon't get out much, but this is big. When this Brood emergesfrom theground there may be as many as a million and a half bugs in a singleacre ofearth!

Almostpure white when they emerge, each one will climb upon a shrub, tree, or screen door and then split their outside shellopen. Likea great magic act (their scientific name is "Magicicada"!), agiant,red-eyed bug will emerge from this exoskeleton, and after a few days,takeflight. The males sing their song, the females come along, and laterthey'lllay their eggs in the branches of trees and shrubs. Those eggs willquicklyhatch, the rice-sized babies will drop and burrow deep, feed slowly onroots,and won't emerge to finally see the sun again until 2021!

Watchforthe Holes and Mud Tubes!

Theperiodic cicadas beginning to emerge all around us have beenunderground for atrue 17 years, feeding so slowly and gently on plant roots that theynever harmtheir hosts.  Biologically triggered toemerge when the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees, they burrow to thesurface, leaving lots of little holes in their wake. Don't worry, theseholesshould quickly fill in. (If any don't, DO fill them inyourself—yellowjacket queens search out such holes to build their nastynestsin).

Ifit rains around emergence time in yourarea, you'll see a much more amazing sight. Instead of holes, the ground will be covered with little mudtubes—someas tall as eight inches—that the baby cicadas build to escape drowningin therain.  Either way, the cicadas willemerge at sunset—often all at once, which is quite a sight—escape theirexoskeletons, and begin their mating ritual.

NewTreesand Shrubs SHOULD be protected!

Remember,'17 year locusts' are cicadas, NOT locusts, and won'tdescendlike a biblical plague onto your tomatoes and petunias; your lawn andgardenare not at any risk.

Theymight, however, harm younger trees and shrubs alittle bit when they feed (gently) as adults; and then more so when thefemaleslay their eggs in the branches of young trees and shrubs. Especially atriskare young fruit trees—their favorite sites for egg laying. Establishedplantings are not in danger—even if the number of cicadas onthem lookspretty scary mid June. But those new (let's say anything lessthan 3 or4 years in the ground) trees and shrubs should be protected with spunpolyesterrowcovers like Reemay, mosquito netting, old curtains or a spray ofone ofthose new liquid clay fruit tree protectors, like Gardens Alive's "SurroundatHome". Get that material ready NOW, and put it on when the sound ofthemillion-plus-bugs-an-acre gets serious.

Clean-UpDetails & a JuneWedding WARNING!

Thetreeswill be filled with singing cicadas for the next month or so, and thentheground will be littered with their bodies by July. DO clean these uppromptly,or they will start to smell. And DO remember to protect youngtrees andshrubs from egg-laying females with mosquito netting or sheer curtains.

           And—unlessyou have a GREAT sense of humor—DO plan to move outdoorweddingsand parties inside or delay them till July. Here's a link to"The CicadaWedding Planner":for details, tips and a great personal remembrance of a 1987 Junewedding. Orjust keep it outdoors and you'll gain an extra 'special anniversary'every 17years!

JustDON'T spray pesticides. They won't reducetheir numbers, but will poison birds and other predatorslooking forwardto this feast. …Not to mention making them unsafe for you toeat.Hey—they're all protein; very Atkins friendly! Bake, boil, deep fry orroll 'emin a little flour and egg and sauté till golden brown. Yum!

Ifyou're interested in trying this once every decade andthree-quarters-plus-change delicacy, here's a link to a great soft-shelledcicada recipe and a 'Chinese Cicada' dishthat we DARE you to say doesn'tlook tasty!
Washington, DC will be the epicenterofthis invasion. If you want to know what might be coming, here's a linkto morecicada stories from the Capitol's 1987 emergence than you can shake anexoskeleton at wtop.

You Bet Your Garden  ©2004 Mike McGrath

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