Cicadas coming to the Carolinas

April 14th, 2011

Cicadas coming to the Carolinas

They could appear soon as a swarm of insects on your windows and doors, and you may hear their cricket-like mating songs from down the street.

The cicadas are coming to the Carolinas.

By the end of April, the insects will emerge after 13 years in the ground to mate before they die. Cicadas climb from the roots of the hardwood trees on which they feed. The Carolinas group is known as Brood XIX, one of the largest. It was last seen in 1998. Although noisy, the insects cause little damage, said Stephen Bambara, extension specialist for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service at N.C. State.

“The average tree may not be the worse for the wear, but nursery-size trees could have slight damage,” Bambara said. “You might want to keep your pets from eating the insects, but they are full of protein.”

The insects favor the sap from the roots of oak, apple and sweet gum trees. As many as 40,000 may cling to a single tree. Females lay eggs in twigs, which weakens leaves and shrubs. The newly hatched cicadas drop into the ground to feed on sap for another 13 years.

Because they are away for so long, the bugs surprise some people when they emerge. The chirping is cryptic and high-pitched compared with that of annual cicadas.

“We have cicadas every year, but these periodical groups come in large numbers,” Bambara said.

The winged insects measure more than 1 inch long and differ from annual cicadas by their smaller black bodies and red eyes. The insects are the longest-lived in North America.

It is hard to know exactly when and how many insects will appear in any given neighborhood, Bambara said. The swarms should cover a broad swath roughly from Charlotte to Henderson. Their emergence has declined in numbers through the years because of farming and urban development.

“These insects need soft ground and trees, so you are talking mostly about old neighborhoods where the ground has not been scraped and hardened,” Bambara said. “Not everyone in the state will see them at the same time. It depends upon the weather.”

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