Listen for cicada

Representatives like this member of Brood V of the 17-year cicada will soon be emerging. Listen for their mating chorus after a warm spring rain in May or June.

May 2016 should once again welcome the emergence of the 17-year periodical cicadas. The last time they emerged was in 1999.

Brood V, as this group is known, will appear in most of eastern Ohio, including portions of Ashtabula County, parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. They aren't found everywhere and there are large gaps in their range.

There are seven species of cicadas, which spend many years developing underground feeding on the fluid from roots of trees. These periodical cicadas are not seen for 13 or 17 years, depending on the species.

The 17-year cicada, Brood V, which are set to emerge this year, are Magicicada septendecim, Magicicada cassini and Magicicada septendecula. The adult cicadas of Brood V have black bodies with red eyes, and are about 1.5 inches long. The wings are translucent and have orange veins.

There are also four species of 13-year periodic cicada and well as many species of the annual cicadas, with which we are much more familiar. Annual, or "Dog-day" cicadas, are larger with green to brown bodies with black markings and a whitish cast and appear every year during July and August.

Cicadas are not locusts, as real locusts look like grasshoppers. They are more closely related to aphids.

The Brood V cicadas will begin to emerge when the soil about 8 inches beneath the surface reaches the temperature of 64 degrees Fahrenheit. A warm spring rain in May or June will often trigger the emergence and they will begin digging their way to the surface.

They usually emerge during the night, through a 1/2 inch hole, climb up tree trunks or other vertical objects where they shed their nymphal skin and emerge as an adult. Their wings inflate with fluid and their adult skin hardens.

It may take about 5 to 7 days for the insect to dry and become active. And that is when the mating chorus begins and the sound can be deafening.

Population densities with the synchronized emergence can be amazing. Cicadas numbering tens to hundreds of thousands per acre are common, even as high as 1.5 million per acre.

Adults live about 4 to 6 weeks and do not eat, but suck fluid from the tender twigs of trees. During this time their only purpose is to mate and lay eggs. The male cicadas will sing to attract females by vibrating membranes on his underside, while the female cicadas are silent.

After mating the female cicada cuts two parallel slits with her long ovipositor in small twigs high in the trees, where she lays 20 to 28 rice-shaped eggs. A female cicada can lay up to 600 eggs during her short life at various sites. Damage to the tree is caused by this 'flagging' or breakage of the tips of the branches where the eggs have been laid.

The pearly eggs hatch in about six weeks. The nymphs fall to the ground where they burrow 6-18 inches into the soil, spend the next 17 years feeding on small roots and undergo five instar stages.

At the end of this time, the mature cicada emerges and the cycle begins again. These cicadas have the longest life cycle of any insect in North America.

Deciduous trees such as oak, hickory, maple, beech, apple, cherry and dogwood are the preferred hosts for egg laying. However, other woody plants, even grapevines, may be used during an emergence year.

It is thought that cicadas may even benefit the health of trees by aerating the soil around the roots and "trimming" the branch tips by flagging. After the cicadas have died, the decaying bodies add large amounts of nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil.

In general, the cicadas cause no permanent harm to plants and trees. However, very small or young trees could be vulnerable if too many of the females should choose to lay their eggs on the immature branches.

To prevent this, simply cover the trees with bird netting or cheesecloth. However, it may not even be a concern if the cicadas do not emerge in your immediate area as they usually do not move more than a few hundred feet.

Adult cicadas have no defense mechanisms, do not bite or sting and have no known toxic chemicals. They also do not carry diseases. Cicadas are usually considered a nuisance simply because of their sheer numbers and loud, piercing mating calls. There are no effective pesticides for controlling periodical cicadas.

Many wild animals will eat the emerging cicadas. Birds, squirrels, raccoons, opossum and wild turkey gorge themselves on the fresh imago or feast on the dead adults as they fall to the ground at the end of their life cycle. Fish love them and they are often used as bait.

The fresh cicadas may also be consumed by dogs and cats. They usually cause no harm to these animals, though pets occasionally will consume so many of the cicadas that they regurgitate or become constipated.

Just remember, they're only bugs.

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