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That’s a Whole Lot of Cicadas

It’s THAT year! The year of the cicada. Cicadas are amazing insects and the more you know about them, the more you will agree with us on that.

Starting in early May in the warmer areas of the MidAtlantic and running until near the end of July, these insects will emerge from the ground and start… making lots and lots of noise. But what may sound like noise to us is The 17 year cicada sits atop a plant drying its wings actually them singing to find a mate. We call it a love song. You can hear it here.

It may not sound like any love song you’ve heard before, but to other cicadas, it’s the sweet sound of hearts and flowers. The cicadas will live for just three or four weeks aboveground – just long enough to mate and, in the case of female cicadas, deposit eggs. It’s tragic, really. A tragic love story! It’s Cicada and Juliet. It’s An Officer and a Cicada. It’s A Cicada is Born. Maybe that’s overstating it a bit, but maybe it’s not. It depends on if you ask a cicada or not.


Whether you think it’s sadly beautiful or not, you probably want to know what it means to you. Well, let’s hash this out. Cicadas are loud as they sing their mating songs, but at some point, the cicada sound will act like a fan spinning or a white noise machine. It could actually help you sleep. In a few months when they are gone, you’ll have to get used to the quiet again. Or just the frogs.


Cicadas themselves are large. Some may find them intimidating but you needn’t worry about these gentle giants. They don’t sting. They don’t bite. They don’t carry or transmit any diseases. They won’t even damage your garden! A gentle cicada rests atop a child's fingerIf they do get inside your home, it was certainly by accident. They feed on the sap of trees and your house doesn’t have any. The best thing you can do is to help shoo them out an open door or window. And since there will be quite a lot of them this year, make sure you don’t leave doors or windows without screens open so they don’t inadvertently fly in. They aren’t strong flyers so you could see them bump into things – and people. They aren’t being aggressive. Give them a break, man. They just got their wings! It’s a learning curve. They will also leave behind large cicada shells when they hatch. You may step on a few, but it’s ok. It’s just a shell.


People often call them locusts, which knowing the reputation of this bug associated with the Biblical plague, is really an unfair comparison. They are actually a completely different species than the locust. Many also classify the emergence of cicadas as an invasion. It’s not. It’s more like a miracle! They are not an invasive species and are truly indigenous to our area – even if you don’t see them for years at a time. And they aren’t hibernating or dormant while they are in between emergence years. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t moving through the soil, feeding and helping the earth become more nutrient-rich.


There will be a lot of them. There are no two ways about it. Brood VII is the smallest kind of cicada brood in the U.S., and this year’s Brood X is the largest of the 12 broods of 17-year cicadas. What does all that mean? Well, as many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre are expected this summer. Not only does that mean a lot of poor flyers, but it will be a lot of cicada sounds as well as lots of the shells they leave behind when they hatch. You will see them just about everywhere in the MidAtlantic region but more in rural areas. Since they feed on tree sap, a forest will be their favorite spot so expect to see lots and lots of them there. But either way, you can expect to see them around your home or business. Check out where they will be most prevalent.

map of active cicada broods

Liebhold, A. M., Bohne, M. J., and R. L. Lilja. 2013. Active Periodical Cicada Broods of the United States.
USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry

You don’t have to love them, but we can’t and shouldn’t do anything about them. They are not a threat to people, pets, or plants. These docile insects are not a pest in the sense of the word we are all used to. They could be considered annoying, sure. Are they loud? Ummm, yes. But are they harmful? Absolutely not.

Think about it this way: If you’ve seen a few emergences, you’ve lived a pretty long life. Third time seeing them? That’s a blessing. Fourth? What’s your secret? And at the end of the day, if the noise is bothering you just remember this: they were here first. Maybe they hate your music, too.

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