The 17 Year Cicada is Back!

I have never been treated to a personal viewing of this extraordinary phenomenon myself, but have read about it many times and have seen video and nature program footage of it. They are commonly referred to as 17-year locusts, but more properly called Periodical Cicadas to refer to their clockwork-like ability to live underground as immature nymphs, feeding on the roots of plants, and then emerge en masse to pupate on the sides of trees and buildings and become the adults by the untold quadzillions. This actually is more complicated than the nice neat package suggests, for there are at least 6 species of periodical cicadas in North America, three species that have 17 year cycles and three species with 13 year cycles, so it is possible that some species may occupy the same forests and overlap adult emergence at various years. However, 2004 is predicted to be the year of a major occurrence of the 17-year variety in the Northeast.

Two excellent websites for general information are university sites, and these are Rutgers at and Penn State . Go to these and they should provide some good facts and trivia for your informational flyers for your customers. In general, cicadas do not bite or sting and are essentially harmless to people, although they are pretty big and probably could scratch with their spiny legs and claws. The primary problems from them are the severe pruning back of branches of trees and the enormous noise they make when the males all start singing. I have heard cicadas in South America, which get into a rythmic chorus that is so loud you would think it is heavy machinery working nearby. The adults are not particularly adept at flying, so they blunder into things regularly, such as windows, doors, or faces. They may be drawn to porch lights or lighted windows at night and drive people nuts. They are very large, and most people just plain don't like big bugs.

The female cicada cuts long slits in the bark of tender, outer branches of the trees, and then lays a couple dozen eggs in the slit. She moves on to make new cuts, ultimately laying up to 600 eggs. This cut causes the death of the twig from that point outward, called "flagging", and the dead twigs ultimately begin falling off the trees. Some arborists consider this to be a natural pruning that is of no particular consequence to the health of the tree, but it can make a mess on the ground. Smaller trees can be protected from this by covering them with a close-knit but open cloth, such as cheesecloth, to keep the cicadas off the branches. The adult cicadas do almost no feeding themselves. They emerge in May and June, do their thing with mating and egg-laying, die off in about 3 or 4 weeks, and usually are gone by early July.

Controlling cicadas is not really needed for the protection of the trees, as they rapidly regrow what is lost by the flagging. Many species of birds have long ago learned of the gourmet attributes of cicadas, and bird lovers will be able to observe flocks of many species of birds swarming in to dine. Pesticide applications can be effective in killing the adults on contact, and should be applied prior to the initiation of ovipositing, which begins about a week after the males first begin their singing. Since the adults feed very little, the material used should be one toxic by their contact with treated surfaces, or if applied directly to them also toxic by body contact. Thus, biological products like bacillus thuringiensis will likely have no effect. So, go to those two websites and you'll get a great overview of these remarkable insects, and be able to put together a factual and enlightening brochure for your customers.

H&R Pest Control has the knowledge and experience to help you deal with cicadas. Please give us a call if you have questions or concerns about this menace. We are here to help.

Give us a call at 540.309.1110 or e-mail us at


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