Saturday, June 12, 2004

Cicada buzz dying down


More are dead than alive; great fertilizer, Kritsky says

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The number of dead cicadas now outnumbers those still alive in Greater Cincinnati.

Cicada researcher Gene Kritsky says most cicadas should be dead and gone by the end of June.

But there are things to be learned - even from dead cicadas.

Five Miami University researchers are beginning a $50,000 research project that they hope will shed light on the impact of dead cicadas on aquatic life in the area's rivers, streams and ponds.

The project, funded by a National Science Foundation grant, is the first of its kind and intended to quantify dead cicadas' importance to everything in those waters from microscopic bacteria to crayfish and bass.

Mike Vanni, professor of zoology, said dead cicadas sometimes represent an infusion of nitrogen equal to all of the leaves that fall into a waterway during the fall.

"When the cicadas fall in, it's the middle of summer when water temperatures are warm and there's more activity in the streams," Vanni said. "We don't really know how much the cicadas matter. We just want to see how the input of cicadas changes the dynamics of these ecosystems."

In addition to adding nutrients to waterways, Kritsky said dead cicadas are wonderful fertilizer for yards.

Kritsky said dead cicadas are high in nitrogen and potassium, two prime ingredients in most fertilizers.

"If you want to control the smell (from decaying cicada carcasses), just rake them away from the base of trees, spread them out over the yard, mulch them up with a lawnmower," Kritsky said.

Periodical cicadas appear in 13- and 17-year cycles. This year's emergence of Brood X, the 17-year variety, means that about 7 billion cicadas have crawled out of the ground all over the region.

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E-mail dklepal@enquirer.com




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