Periodical cicadas emerge in specific locations once every 17
years in the northern part of their range, and once every 13 years
in the southern part. Different "broods" emerge somewhere in the
eastern United States almost every spring. Massive brood emergence
is believed to overwhelm predators, which are mostly birds. This
ensures that enough survivors will be left behind to reproduce.
Male cicadas are capable of making a loud buzzing noise and squawk
when disturbed. The males often synchronize their buzzing in trees
which produces a deafening noise. It is believed that such droning
and squawking is effective in deterring predators. Cicadas do not
bite or sting and have no known toxic chemicals. Adult cicadas are
usually a nuisance due to their sheer numbers and loud, piercing
Adult periodical cicadas, Magicicada septendecium, are sucking
insects, about 40 mm (1.5 inches) long, which appear from May through
July. They are most numerous in the last two weeks of May and first
week of June. They are black and have reddish-orange eyes and legs.
Adults have clear wings with orange veins that are held roof-like
over their bodies.
Photo by R. Childs, University of Massachusetts IPM.
The "dog-day" or annual cicadas (Tibicen spp.) appear during
the long summer days of July and August. These cicadas have two-to
five-year life cycles, but their broods overlap and some appear
every summer. Dog-day cicadas are larger than periodical cicadas
and have green to brown bodies with black markings and a whitish
bloom. Their wings have green veins.
Annual cicadas do not ordinarily cause much damage. Periodical
cicadas damage trees above and below ground. The most obvious damage
is that caused by egg laying in small twigs. This damage causes
twigs to split, wither, and die, causing a symptom called "flagging."
Flagging is especially serious on young plants (four years or younger)
because more of the branches are of the preferred size for oviposition,
6 to 12 mm (1/4 to 1/2 inch) in diameter. Some of the more favored
trees for oviposition include maple, oak, hickory, beech, ash, dogwood,
hawthorn, magnolia, willow, apple, peach, cherry and pear. Flowers,
vines and shrubs include: Rose of Sharon, rose, raspberry, grape,
black-eyed Susan, hollies, spirea, rhododendron, viburnum, junipers,
and arborvitae. More than 270 species of plants have been noted
as hosts for egg laying female cicadas. Damage is also done by the
nymphs that suck sap from roots. Prolonged feeding by nymphs on
a tree's root system may reduce plant growth and fruit production.
Immature periodical cicadas (nymphs) develop underground and suck
juices from plant roots. After 13 or 17 years below ground, mature
nymphs emerge from the soil at night and climb onto nearby vegetation
or any vertical surface. They then molt into winged adults. Their
shed outer skins or exoskeletons are found attached to tree trunks
and twigs. The emergence is often tightly synchronized, with most
nymphs appearing within a few nights. Adult cicadas live for only
two to four weeks. During this short time, they feed relatively
little. Male cicadas sing by vibrating membranes on the underside
of the first abdominal segment. Male courtship songs attract females
for mating. Females are silent. After mating, females lay their
eggs in twigs 6 to 12 mm (1/4 to 1/2 inch) in diameter. The female's
ovipositor slices into the wood and deposits the eggs. One to several
dozen eggs can be laid in one branch, with up to 400 eggs laid by
each female in 40 to 50 sites.
Cicada eggs remain in the twigs for 6 to 10 weeks before hatching.
The newly-hatched, ant-like nymphs fall to the ground where they
burrow 15 to 45 cm 6 to 18 inches) underground to feed.
During the spring of the emergence year, periodical cicada nymphs
may build mud tubes which project three to five inches above the
soil, apparently to escape wet or saturated soils. These tubes are
often mistaken for the tubes that crayfish build.
Annual cicadas usually emerge from June through August. Their
emergence is scattered over this time and they rarely emerge in
noticeable numbers. Annual cicada males also sing to attract females.
The cicada killer wasp often captures these insects to provision
its nest in the ground.
We do not have problems with periodical cicadas in Rhode Island
and since dog-day cicadas seldom, if ever, cause damage, cicada
control is unwarranted in this state.
fromthe Ohio State University Extension, 1999