The 17-Year Cicada

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The 17-year cicada is here! They started emerging from the soil about a week ago and will spend the next 4-6 weeks here in Burke County, singing to its citizens and causing stress to the non-insect-loving folks who hate to see them come. For most homeowners it will be a passive event although a noisy one.

There are annual cicadas, 13- year cicadas and 17-year cicadas and the life cycle is pretty much the same although for some it is much longer than for others. Nymphs emerge from the ground in the spring and crawl to trees, buildings, etc. where they shed their old skin. They rest until their wings and outer body have dried and hardened and then they will begin to mate. After mating, the females will fly to nearby trees and crawl to small limbs where they will slit the bark open and deposit around 28 eggs. In about 6 weeks the eggs will hatch and the cicada nymphs will burrow back in the ground to feed on roots for another 17 years. We’ll see them again in 2034.

Contrary to popular belief, these insects are not the same locusts who devour everything in sight. In fact, they don’t feed above the ground at all. Minimal damage to tree roots is occasionally reported but the most damaging aspect of the cicada life cycle is the slit they make in young tree branches when laying eggs. This can cause the tree tip to die and in some cases the weight of the eggs in the limbs can cause branches to break. This is especially true of young trees.

There are too many to treat with insecticides so just enjoy the song they sing for a short while and know that their time here is limited. As a closing note, it is interesting that there are different broods of cicadas so the 17-year cicada that has emerged here (brood VI) is not the same brood that might emerge in another state next year.