“Brood X” 17-year cicadas beginning to emerge

Southern Ohio could see them buzzing by the billions through early summer
Published: May. 4, 2021 at 6:57 PM EDT
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The Midwest air will soon be buzzing with activity, as cicadas emerge from their stint below the surface. “Brood X”, as entomologists call it, could number in the trillions across the Midwest and east coast.

“This particular brood is a 17-year brood that will emerge this year,” explains Tom Macy, forest health program administrator for ODNR Division of Wildlife. “The last time they emerged was 2004, but back in 2016, mainly in eastern Ohio, we had Brood V -- also 17-year cicadas. Less commonly, there are 13-year cicadas, but we don’t have those in Ohio.”

If you view these insects as creepy crawlers, don’t worry -- while we do get a few cicadas every summer, the Brood X variety won’t be invading northwest Ohio. Macy says “we’re expecting to see some up toward Columbus, and maybe a few as far north as Defiance County, but really the core of this emergence will be in the Cincinnati/Dayton areas.”

While they’re notable for their subterranean nature, cicadas start their lives aboveground. “The females have an ovipositor that basically cuts a slit in a tree or shrub branch, where she deposits her eggs... then after a few weeks, those tiny nymphs drop to the soil and burrow in,” says Macy. “They move around underground, they develop there and feed on plant roots -- but they’re not consuming enough plant material to really do any damage. That egg activity can kill the branch twig from that spot, so later in the summer, people might start noticing these dead plant tips on trees/shrubs... while it may look bad, the plants are otherwise healthy and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.”

17 years later, they reappear once soil temperatures reach about 64°F, eight inches below the surface. “We’re already hearing reports of cicadas in Washington D.C. where it’s slightly warmer,” Macy says, “and we should start to see/hear them in Ohio within the next couple of weeks.”

The insects will mate for a few weeks... and it’s that mating call that makes all the headlines. Some cicadas have been recorded at over 100 decibels -- that’s louder than your average lawnmower. “Millions, if not billions, of the male cicadas sort of chorus in unison with their cricket-like trilling that they make.

Billions of bugs can not only help aerate the soil, but replenish the nutrients once they die off -- not to mention serving as a great food source for other animals, just not your pets. “Dogs and cats may vomit if they get curious and eat too many, but the cicadas themselves are non-toxic,” assures Macy. “They’re harmless and non-aggressive toward people, so there’s really no need for any repellent or insecticides -- you may be doing more harm than good.”

Macy sees this summer as a rare teachable moment: “The more you learn about it, the more interesting and fascinating it is... and you learn to hate them less!”

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