Cicadas are coming! Cicadas are coming!

I can’t believe that we are almost to May! You know what that means ... duh duh dunnnnnnn (you know, that sound that is made when there is a big revelation?). Cicadas are coming!

Yes, this is the year for the emergence of the 17-year cicada in the west and southwest part of Ohio. I must admit, I am a little excited about this. I haven’t written about them in 17 years!

It is the year that we will experience the emergence of the Brood X cicadas. In Brood X, one of the largest, there are three different species, with three different colors — black, orange and red. The species are Magicicada septendecim, Magicicada cassini, and Magicicada septendecula.

Keep in mind that these are not locusts as some might call them. Locusts are Orthopterans and in the grasshopper family. Cicadas are like plant hoppers and are in the Hemiptera family.

They are also not the dog-day cicadas you hear every year in August with their singing indicating that summer is almost over. These come out every year and are a different species; and they are green in color.

Being a Hemipteran, cicadas have an incomplete life cycle. In other words, the adult, egg and nymph stages. Caterpillars, which are Lepidopterans, have a complete life cycle — adult, egg, larvae (caterpillar) and pupae stages.

These species have a life cycle that takes 17 years to complete. Most of their life is spent underground as nymphs. Right now, people in the Miami Valley are seeing adults begin to slowly emerge from the ground.

When they first emerge, they emerge from holes in the ground and create small soil “chimneys,” usually around the base of trees. A reader, Dan Grabowski, found what I would believe to be these holes and chimneys in his landscape. They are indeed beginning their emergence.

In May, and perhaps late April depending on the weather, we will see mass emergence of all three species. They come out of their holes in the ground and begin to migrate up any vertical surface.

When they emerge, they are covered by their nymphal exoskeletons. They shed these and begin to move upward. The shed nymphal skins can be found stuck to tree trunks, fence posts and other structures.

These young, tender adults can be identified by their red eyes. Their bodies are tender and at this time, they are susceptible to being “picked off” by predators. However, their defense is to emerge in such large masses that predators couldn’t kill off all of them!

Credit: Joe Boggs

Credit: Joe Boggs

When they are ready, they start to fly, males looking to mate with females. This is when the cacophony starts. Some are so annoyed by this while others are amused. To each his own — I enjoy it!

But I also don’t live in a heavily wooded area where they will be driving me nuts! Some cicadas in Africa have been found to have sounds over 100 decibels.

Next, the females, after mating, begin egg laying. This is where the problems might come in for plants.

She uses her ovipositor (egg laying apparatus, so to speak) and slices the bark of small stems and inserts her eggs into these slices. How incredible is that — she can slice the stems with a body part.

The result of this egg-laying is that the tips of the branches end up drying up and dying. Not a big deal for large trees. This is more of a pruning of the branches than anything else.

However, for small, newly established trees, you might want to protect them with netting to prevent egg-laying.

Be sure to stay tuned for more details in the next few weeks! The fun is just beginning!

Pamela Corle-Bennett is the state master gardener volunteer coordinator and horticulture educator for Ohio State University Extension. Contact her by email at

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