If you are younger than 20 – or moved to Cincinnati from the western states – you may not know about the millions of bugs that will climb out of the ground and head to our woods this summer. With deafening noise, they cannot be ignored. At a size of your thumb, they are easy to see and quite scary when they fly by your head. Fear not as they will not hurt. They are here to finish their life cycle with a mating ritual, procreation and nesting of their eggs. By fall, all the cicadas will be gone. It will be another 17 years until this brood of bugs, Brood X, rises again.
Here Come the Cicadas
If you have lived in the Cincinnati area for at least 20 years, then you’ve seen and experienced the army of bugs that will emerge, fly and die by your house. If you gardened or mowed back during the last emergence, then you may recall your surprise as they buzzed nearby or glanced off of you. Or, you may remember walking on the crunchy shells on the sidewalks. After 17 years, cicadas are still hard to forget.
I remember one house that had the loudest sound in the neighborhood. We visited the backyard of this home to experience the full-cicada effect. As we entered the woods, the noise was frightening. While we could not see cicadas as they hid in the forest, the noise level made us feel that there were millions of them.
Why All the Noise?
Your kids may ask how they make such noise. Luckily, scientists have uncovered the mystery: unusual and vigorous body contortions. Many species of cicadas can contain ribbed membranes that act like a drum. The membrane (known as a tymbal) vibrates as the cicadas flex their muscles. Other species use portions of their wings that buckle and create clicks. While this all sounds like noise to us, it is actually a simple language to provide warnings and attract or respond to mates.
If you want to get away from all this noise, then try the state of Michigan. According to the U.S. Forest Service, USDA, the central and northern reaches of Michigan are cicada-free zones. While you may not be able to spend eight weeks there to fully escape the brood, a week’s reprieve is always welcomed. (Michigan offers great opportunities in outdoor adventures. Activities like hiking, cycling, fishing and boating are all Covid compliant, cicada-free events. Plan your trip now as Michigan lodging rents quickly.)
Cicadas and Your Pet
The 17-year cicada metamorphosis is a favorite time for pets. While our pets likely did not see the last time these bugs flew, they instinctively know a good snack when they see it. These bugs are high in protein and can even be eaten by humans. However, please refrain from letting your pets eat too many. An upset stomach is no fun in the end. Signs of too much consumption by your pet can cause vomiting, diarrhea or lethargy. A trip to the veterinarian may be warranted if this occurs. Otherwise, there should not be any worries this year.
Cicadas in Your Garden
The garden is the one area of concern for homeowners. For the amateur landscaper, this year’s planting should wait till fall. While cicadas are harmless to mature plants and trees, they can be harmful to young trees or plants. It seems that the cracks and crevasses in young trees are just about the right size for cicada eggs. The space will typically be expanded by the cicadas to fit about 600 eggs per nest. These accommodations are just used short term as the offspring will hatch and fall to ground within a few weeks. However, the effect of cicadas opening cracks on small limbs can be stressful to young trees. Some dead limbs or stunted growth could be a result.
What should homeowners do to prepare the cicada invasion? Here are a few suggestions from the experts:
- Protect – The trees most likely sought after by cicadas are elm, chestnut, ash, maple, and oak. Emphasize inspection and protection of these trees.
- Trim – Remove dead branches to eliminate potential nesting spots.
- Net– Put netting or mesh around your plants and trees. Tree seedlings can be stressed by cicadas leading to stunted growth or an early demise. Placing mesh or cheesecloth around the tree trunk may also make cleanup easier.
• Pick – If found in small enough numbers, pick adults and nymphs off plants by hand.
• Spray – Remove cicadas from plants by spraying them with water from a garden hose.
- Hydrate – Keep the trees hydrated to help maintain tree health.
- Fertilized – Plants and trees should be fed to aid in recover from the stress.
- Prune – Dead limbs can stress a tree. Some limbs will need to go.
These steps should help you protect your landscaping and your house value. Talk to a professional landscaper if you have questions. Sibcy Cline Home Services can help you make this connection.
Cicada Art Ideas
For the artist in your family, this is a great time to be inspired by cicadas. Painting, drawing, photography or digital creation are all aspects of artistic expression. For example
Craft Train recommends painting their shells in bright colors. (I expect my grandkids will be painting them this summer.)
Digital art can be created with software such as Blender or Adobe Illustrator. (My favorite would be a humorous cartoon strip!)
Fun with Math and Cicadas
Why do broods of cicadas only emerge every 13 or 17 years? Scientists believe it is related to protecting their longevity. Some broods have become extinct and scientists believe some extinctions occurred during emergence into unfavorable summer conditions. To avoid this, it is best to only have one brood emerge per year. Therefore one brood of cicadas rarely emerges with another brood. This separation of emergence greatly reduces the chances of a common extinction event.
Here is a good math problem to solve:
In what future year would two groups of cicadas emerge together given that a 17-year brood rises in 2020 and a 13-year brood rises in 2021?
Hint: Repeatedly add 17 years to 2020; repeatedly add 13 years to 2021. Now look for the common year. For those with Excel skills, this be easy.
Answer: 2090 will be the next year a 17-year brood and 13-year brood will rise together. (See you then!)