April showers bring May cicadas

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, April 10, 2013

This spring, Virginians may be showered with more than rain – they may be inundated with the sound of cicadas.

These cicadas have red eyes, black bodies and golden wings. Different from the “dog-day” cicadas we hear in July and August each year, these insects are coming out after 17 years in hiding.

“Periodical cicadas are divided into two ‘races,’ based on their life cycle: a 17-year northern race, and a 13-year southern race,” explains Chris Asaro, forest health specialist for the Virginia Department of Forestry. “The majority of the cicada’s life cycle is spent in the nymphal stage underground, where it feeds on sap from tree roots. Adults live only for a few weeks. When the adults emerge, the males will ‘sing out’ to attract females.” This noisy courtship period typically lasts four-to-six weeks.

To deposit her eggs, the female cicadas make punctures at the ends of twigs. The sudden appearance of many dead twigs, called “flagging,” may cause some concern. Most trees recover from this damage.

The insects target newly planted fruit and ornamental trees, such as apple, dogwood, peach, hickory, cherry and pear. Hardwood trees, especially oaks, are also vulnerable, but pines and other conifers are usually left alone.

Newly planted trees can be covered with fine netting to keep the cicadas from reaching the small tender twigs. Using sprays to control the cicadas is not recommended.

Though they can be extremely noisy, cicadas are not poisonous and do not bite or sting. The insects are expected to stay with us until the end of May or early June.