Thursday, May 6, 2004

Cicada questions bugging you? Here's some help

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Here are some common questions and uncommon answers about the periodical cicada. The 17-year variety, known as Brood X, is expected to begin emerging in Greater Cincinnati by the billions on May 14, give or take five days, according to Gene Kritsky, biology professor at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Delhi Township.

They will begin to emerge after the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees. This year's group is the largest of all cicada broods.

Cicada watch 2004
Question: Don't I see and hear cicadas every year?

Answer: Yes. Different species have different life cycles. Some come out in much smaller numbers every year. This year is unusual because the largest Brood X will emerge for the first time in 17 years, and number in the billions in Greater Cincinnati. The annual cicadas usually come out in late summer.

Q: Where will they be?

A: All of Kentucky, two-thirds of Indiana and the southwest corner of Ohio will have some of the heaviest concentrations. A small portion of West Virginia, Illinois, Tennessee and southern Michigan, as well as a pocket in the East that includes Pennsylvania; Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Virginia; Long Island, N.Y.; New Jersey; parts of the Carolinas; and northern Georgia will also host cicadas. Only very small sections of Greater Cincinnati will escape them.

Q: How long do they last?

A: About six weeks. In 1987, the emergence began May 19 and ended June 30.

Q: Do cicadas bite?

A: No, but they might pinch slightly. Male and female cicadas have small claws on their legs that can pinch.

Q: Do they fly?

A: Yes, but not very fast and not very far from where they emerge.

Q: What if my pet eats them?

A: No big deal. They are a nutritious treat for insect eaters - and humans, as well.

Q: How can I avoid attracting them?

A: Don't run a lawn mower or chain saw in prime emergence times, when cicadas are flying. That's typically the second through fourth weeks of emergence. Riding lawn mowers, gas-powered weed whackers and gas-powered leaf blowers, in particular, seem to attract cicadas. Kritsky believes it has something to do with the frequency of the sound the machines emit.

Q: Do cicadas urinate?

A: Nature calls for all of God's creatures. Bug urine, called "honey dew," doesn't stink or stain.

Q: Do cicadas smell after they die?

A: Yes, dead bug corpses will decay in the heat of summer and begin to smell like ripe Limburger cheese. The odor will last for about two weeks.

Q: Are cicadas locusts?

A: No. Locusts belong to the same insect family as grasshoppers. The confusion stems because locusts and cicadas, which are more closely related to aphids, both emerge in periodic swarms. Locusts are far more destructive.

Q: Will cicadas kill my trees, shrubs and flowers?

A: Cicadas don't kill flowers or shrubs. They do minimal damage to adult trees, but are a benefit to them in the long run by destroying weaker branches and essentially providing a pruning service. Trees less than 2 years old and/or less than 6 feet high, however, are at risk.

Q: How can I protect my young trees?

A: Place netting around the crown and tie it off at the bottom so cicadas can't get into the branches.

Q: We've had cicadas in my neighborhood in the past but not anymore. Why?

A: Pesticides, construction, extreme weather conditions and tree removal could all eliminate cicadas from certain areas.

Q: Is it OK to kill cicadas?

A: Depends on your moral values, or how hungry you are. Kritsky says the vast majority of pesticides are applied to trees and will not harm cicadas because they do not chew on trees. Thus, poison won't get into their systems.

Q: Do cicadas sing?

A: Yes, it is a love song. Males sing to attract the attention of females.

Q: What does it sound like?

A: The three species of cicadas have unique calls - which vary from a high-pitched hollow whistle to a series of clicks and buzzes to the sound of a rotary sprinkler head - so that only females of their own kind are attracted. Responsive females make a sound by flicking their wings, which is similar to flipping through a deck of cards.

Q: What should I do with the shells the nymphs emerge from?

A: Nothing. They are biodegradable and will blend back into the soil.

Q: I'm planning an outdoor wedding; what can I expect from the uninvited wedding guests?

A: An occasional cicada landing on a guest, and the guest screaming. The constant hum of the cicada love song. Bodies of dead cicadas littering the ground. An occasional cicada crawling on a chair, table or barbecue.

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