The Buzz on Cicadas

MAY 08

Have you heard all the buzz about the return of the cicadas?  If you haven't, you soon will.  This summer parts of the east coast will be invaded by Brood II cicadas. While they are annoying, cicadas don't pose much of a threat. The worst part of their existence is the noise.  Their constant loud annoying hum as they search for mates can be enough to drive some people over the edge.

There are two types of cicadas. One type is the periodic cicada with a two to eight year life cycle. These insects have a staggered life cycle; every year a different brood is hatching, making it seem like they are reappearing annually. The second type of cicada has a thirteen to seventeen year life cycle. This group does not appear every year, but when they do emerge it's in large numbers. The emergence we are expecting this year is of this second type, simply referred to as Brood II.

Seventeen years ago, the nymphs burrowed down into the ground to feed.  They will appear again from holes in the ground in mid-May and climb up into the trees, shedding their skin to emerge as adults, sort of like a butterfly, but much less elegant. The adult cicadas hang out for a brief while to make noise and mate. Not long after the big event, they drop dead and become a delicious delicacy for many animals, including your dogs and cats. (That is, of course, if they didn't smash into your windshield first!)

What does all this mean for your yard?  When they emerge from the ground in mid-May, the adult cicadas don't feed at all.  Their sole purpose at this stage in their lives is to mate.  Any damage to trees and shrubs is caused by the female as she cuts small slits in twigs and lays eggs in the slits.  This can cause the wounded branch tips to initially look wilted and then turn brown as the tip dies.  The damage is certainly noticeable but not life-threatening to any but very small or very young trees.  If these damaged tips are pruned out and disposed of, it will improve the appearance of the plant as well as eliminate the future cicadas those eggs will become.

The good thing about Brood II is that it's smaller than Brood X which we witnessed in 2004. Also, not all parts of our area are going to be affected. The University of Maryland Extension reports that "the parts of Maryland that will have emergence are mainly in southern Maryland, Prince George's County and the lower portion of Montgomery County." However, most of Virginia will see activity from Brood II (sorry, guys).