It’s time for me to address the elephant, or shall I say the two-inch insect in the room. The cicadas are coming, and they’re coming in droves! After spending years underground, they will emerge, millions of them with one thing in mind, to mate and lay their eggs.
This is the year of the periodic cicadas which have spent 13 or 17 years underground in the nymph stage. In May they will surface, molt on nearby trees and emerge as adults- their exoskeletons left clinging to the sides of trees. The adults will fly about and cover trees, exterior walls, and you too, at times. Before you get too freaked out (how often can one say that in a garden blog?) know that they have no interest in us, do not bite, and will be gone and soon a distant memory. A loud memory.
When the males emerge, they gather in large groups in the tree canopies and sing their hearts out. These throngs of serenading male cicadas are doing all they can to attract the females. What happens next is best explained by entomologist Gary Parsons. When speaking with Michigan State University he shared, “After mating, female cicadas do insert and lay their eggs inside slender stems and twigs of trees and shrubs. When the tiny nymphs hatch, they drop to the ground, burrowing into the soil and then find a root to suck fluids out of for the next 13 or 17 years. The egg laying often kills twigs and branches, effectively pruning back the trees or shrubs, but sucking fluids from the roots seems to have little or no effect on the plants. With millions of adult cicadas emerging at once, predators tend to have a feast on them. Sometimes dogs or pets will gorge on so many of them it will make them sick, but they are not toxic or otherwise harmful.”
If you are still feeling a bit hesitant about this upcoming event, try to embrace the very optimist view held by Melanie Sifton (previous vice president of Horticulture and Facilities at Brooklyn Botanic Garden). “Overall, the emergence of the 17-year cicadas should be an amazing phenomenon to observe. They are quite beautiful in their own right, and their song is among the loudest in the insect world. They are also one of the longest-lived insects on earth and are a symbol of good fortune and immortality in various cultures around the world. So instead of likening cicadas to a plague of locusts, try to enjoy their short visit and appreciate them in all their noisy glory.”
“We don’t recall any lasting damage to plants from the last cicada mergence,” shares Peter Wimberg. “The tender ends of branches that suffered the most from the cicadas depositing their eggs were pruned and these trees and shrubs quickly recovered.”
So, my garden friends, it may be a bit loud, and it may not be fun to run into or worse yet, bike into a flying cicada, but just remember they won’t be here long, they don’t bite, and after mid-June we can put them out of our minds for another 13-17 more years.