Cicada craze: ‘They’ll be coming, bubbling out of the ground any day now’


A cicada nymph moves in the grass, Sunday, May 2, 2021, in Frederick, Md. Within days, a couple weeks at most, the cicadas of Brood X (the X is the Roman numeral for 10) will emerge after 17 years underground. There are many broods of periodic cicadas that appear on rigid schedules in different years, but this is one of the largest and most noticeable. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

INDIANAPOLIS — The great cicada emergence is creeping ever closer with each passing day. Experts say it’s only a matter of time until these noisy bugs burst from the ground. 

Before they arrive, there are a few last-minute things you should know to protect you plants before any cicadas decide to call them home. 

There’s not much you can do to stop forces of nature, but luckily when it comes to cicadas, there is one thing you can do. Net.

“Their wings are orange. Their body is black, and their eyes are red,” Professor of Entomology at Purdue University Cliff Sadof said. “When people see a lot of creepy crawly things… they become afraid, but I always tell people to relax because they can’t hurt us, they aren’t built for that.”

But what they can harm, is young trees. 

“If you have any young trees, you particularly care about, you should wrap them now. This weekend. Before they come out because, by the time, they come out it might be already too late,” Sadof said. “Get something that’s called ‘insect netting’ in the word and that means that the netting has a mesh of less than a half-inch in mesh size.”

It could be any day now that the cicadas emerge, any time the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees in fact, when they come, they’ll come in the millions or more. 

“Pretty much there’s one to two million per acre that come out… so that’s a lot, that’s quite a few,” Sadof said. “The reason they emerge in such great numbers is partially due to the fact that they are really clumsy fliers. They can’t run away. And the only way they can survive is that there’s so many that the predators can’t eat them all.”

You may have already seen a sign of their arrival, mud tubes, which the bugs will crawl out of. Almost like a sci-fi flick, what happens next is what has scientists like Sadof excited. 

“It’s almost going to be like ‘Night of the Living Dead’. They’ll be crawling out – these little fingers will be starting to come out. They’ll come out of the holes and then they’ll head for the trees or a nice fence post,” Sadoff said. “Then they’re going to jump out of their skins. So what they start doing is inhaling and taking up oxygen and then they just split just like a seam out of the back kinda like the Incredible Hulk splitting out of his shirt kinda thing. Then they unfurl their wings – it’s almost like they’re doing some yoga, some sun salutations or something silly like that. It’s quite amazing to watch.”

“They grow, sing songs, mate, have children and die,” Sadoff said. “The entire life cycle in a month right before our very eyes.”

And every part of it, happens in trees, your tree unless you take proper precautions. 

“They will stunt the growth of young trees by about a year because they lay eggs, as thick as a pencil inside the branches,” Sadoff said. “Larger trees won’t be nearly as affected, they may look tipped in brown because some branches will die but not as much damage for sure.”

There is one other way you can potentially make a dent on the cicada craze, by eating some yourself…

“One of my favorite recipes though, which I have eaten, is you take some Old Bay seasoning, and you boil em,” Sadoff said. But if you have allergies to shellfish, I would stay away. These are also arthropods so you’re probably allergic to these too. It’s whatever you know? It’s once every 17 years… you know just have fun with it.” 

Purdue University is asking for citizen scientists to emerge alongside the cicadas and document their arrival, if you’re interested check out their website to learn more on how you can help. 

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