What’s That Sound?

Millions of cicadas are crawling over the state after 17 years underground.

Photo credit NBCNews.com

Cicada

We’re all familiar with the sounds of summer—ice cream trucks, children playing, birds chirping, and, of course, cicadas buzzing. You may have heard about the “new” brood of cicadas that are emerging this summer after 17 years underground, but maybe you’re also wondering what makes this brood so different from the cicadas that we hear loud and clear every summer. 

First, this brood, dubbed “Brood IX,” is generally confined to southwest Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia. Second, these buzzing insects are what’s known as “periodical” cicadas, of which there are 15 different broods all over North America, emerging every 13 or 17 years. Most of the cicadas we hear every summer, on the other hand, are “annual” cicadas, which can actually live for two to five years. Cicadas are present every summer because different broods’ life cycles overlap.

This year, however, we will see millions of cicadas coming out after 17 years underground. Some scientists believe this practice of underground living to be a way of avoiding predators, but once they emerge, it’s open season for anyone or anything that will eat a cicada.  Another purpose cicadas serve (besides being noisy) is aerating the soil when they come up from underground. When they die, their carcasses provide nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil. In terms of harm, female cicadas lay their eggs in branches in twigs, which typically does not affect older trees, but can indeed be very harmful for younger trees and plants. According to some sources, cicadas prefer deciduous, fruit, and smaller/ornamental trees. For a brood of this size, they could also resort to shrubs, vegetables, and flowers. 

No need to fear, however. Those who should be most concerned are farmers who expect every branch of their fruit trees to produce fruit, and they will have already taken the right steps to protect their trees. If you’re still worried, the most common ways to protect your plants include netting and insect exclusion screens, and removing damaged twigs as soon as you see them. Otherwise, if you live in the affected areas, you may want to hold off on planting any young trees until fall.

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