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ANM: Cicadas

Pmjacoby, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

  What makes this summer different from those in the past? It’s not just the vaccination of friends and family members, or the return of events like AthFest. Cicadas will be out in higher numbers than last year, because of the return of what’s called Brood X, a once every 17 year generation of Cicadas. WUGA’s Lucas Trevor asked around about this summer’s swarm of insects.
 Some of you are not going to like what you’re about to hear.

*Cicada sounds*

That’s the sound of Cicadas.  It’s commonly associated with hot summer nights, because that’s the time of year when a new generation of the insects come out to mate.

This summer that process is going to be a little different. For states on the East Coast like Georgia, the 17 year cycle of what is called Brood X means there will be a lot more cicadas than usual. Brood X is a generation of periodical cicadas, which are a little different from the ones we see,  and hear,  most summers.

“Periodical cicadas are different from the annual cicadas that we have every summer, and they’ll be showing up next month.”

That’s Dr. Nancy Hinkle. She’s an entomologist at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“Periodical cicadas, as you might guess from the name, only show up periodically. They show up every, in this case every 17 years. There are 13 year cicadas as well, but these are 17 year cicadas.”

The generation of Brood X went underground in 2004, and will be coming up in a swarm numbering in the billions. But other than their long underground hibernation, there are some differences between periodical and annual cicadas.

“Periodical cicadas are actually smaller than our annual cicadas. They are only about an inch and a half long, but they are distinctive in having bright red eyes, at least while they are alive, and their black bodies, so they are obviously Georgia dogs, red and black. But they also have orange wings. They are very distinctive, I don’t think you will mistake them for any other insect out there.”

With a large swarm of insects coming up out of the ground this month, it does beg the question. What will their effect be on plants and animals?

I asked Laura Ney this question. She works for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Clarke County, and is an expert in horticulture and crop and soil science. If that name sounds familiar, she also helped answer listener questions on Athens News Matters last month. Here’s what she said.

“So the short answer is no, not really. They have a lot of bark and no bite I guess. I know they’re really loud and coming out in droves in certain years and in certain places it can be maybe unsettling because of how much presence they have. But they don't pose much of an agricultural threat.”

Ney continued to explain that in some very specific instances, plants can be damaged by annual cicadas.

“I guess the caveat to that is they can harm trees but the harm is mostly going to be on younger susceptible ones.”

But there are a few easy preventative steps that folks can take.

“If you are in an area that they are forecasting these huge numbers of cicadas, maybe you just planted some blueberry shrubs in your backyard, or you have some young trees that are really important to you that you don’t want to risk potential damage in their trunks or important branches. You can put bird netting over them for the period of time where they are active.”

The same goes for animals and people. Despite being loud, cicadas can’t bite and they also can’t sting.While Brood X will show up for most of the eastern seaboard, only some parts of Georgia will see an increase in cicada activity. Here’s Dr. Hinkle again.

“If people want to see and experience Brood X of the periodical cicadas, they’ll need to take a day trip to the North Georgia mountains and check around and find some of the sights, and listen and watch as these periodical cicadas mate and start another 17 year cycle.”

“All animals are taking advantage of these, and we’ll probably see larger populations of wildlife next year, because they got such a good start this year when they were gorging on periodical cicadas.”

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