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A Swarm of Rare Cicadas Will Return to Our Region this Spring

Right now, there are billions of cicadas buried beneath your feet, just waiting to emerge from the ground around you. And this specific brood of cicadas has waited patiently to return aboveground – for 17 years, to be exact.

In Southeastern Pennsylvania, we see these insects dotting our trees starting in May each spring. These are the annual cicadas we’re used to hearing sing. But, once every 13 or 17 years, a different type of cicada makes an entrance, taking over the tree branches throughout Pennsylvania and other surround states.

The cicadas we are about to see hatch here in Lancaster and Chester county, known as Brood X, hatched as nymphs in the trees in our region in 2004 and quickly made their way underground. They’ve been living subterranean lives ever since, surviving on the roots of trees a foot or more beneath the surface.

Male Cicadas Will Announce Their Arrival with A Constant Chirping

As if on cue, most of the cicadas we’ll see in Southeastern PA in May will arrive within a few days of one another. They’ll move from the ground onto trees, plants, vegetation, and even the sides of sheds and houses.

The insects are vulnerable during these first few days above ground – the perfect snack for most of the birds, reptiles, fish, spiders, and many bugs in our part of the state. And yet, despite how aggressively they’ll be hunted, an incredible number of cicadas will survive and find new homes in the trees.

Males that survive will make their presence known with loud chirps that resonate from their hallow abdomens. A male cicada can call out to other cicadas with different chirps – from chorus songs to distress calls. You can listen to Sounds of Cicadas Chirping recorded by scientists across the country.

You’re Likely to See a Large Infestation of Cicadas Covering Trees in Our Area

Cicadas eat from trees, but not by chewing or tunneling like other insects. Instead, they use their beaks to locate and suck liquids, called xylem, from inside the trees. Many people think that cicadas kill trees by eating the xylem, but this isn’t the case.

Damage can occur when female cicadas cut slits into the tree’s branches to lay their eggs. The slits provide a shelter and a source of xylem for the eggs, so they’re fed and protected before they hatch.

Note that cicada eggs aren’t likely to harm a healthy, mature tree. The cuts can, however, damage the branches of a weak or immature tree. If damage does occur, you’ll notice what’s called flagging –leaves that turn brown.

Protect Small, Young or Weak Trees Before Brood X Cicadas Make Their Entrance

brood x cicadasCicadas rarely cause damage to tall, mature trees. Luckily, these are the types of trees they prefer. So, while trees on the edges of forests that get a good amount of sunlight are more likely to see cicadas, they’re unlikely to experience any damage. Trees that you recently transplanted, or that are young or weak may need some protection.

Most homeowners assume getting rid of an insect requires insecticide. Because cicadas can move from one tree to another and lay eggs over several weeks, though, you’d have to consistently spray trees with insecticide for the remainder of the spring and into the summer. As a result, this isn’t a very effective method.

The method proven most effective is netting. Covering a tree in 1-cm mesh netting before cicadas arrive this month prevents them from landing on branches and laying their eggs.

The important thing to remember with cicada infestations is that, while unpleasant, the large number of insects you see won’t cause damage to healthy, mature trees. We don’t recommend a treatment plan for these pests. If you’re concerned about young trees, covering them with netting is the best method of protection.

Follow the Arborist Enterprises Facebook Page for updates as cicadas make their way to Southeastern Pennsylvania. And check back for more updates on insects in our area and ways to protect your property this spring and summer.