Local yards buzzing with return of 13-year cicadas
Reproduction may cause minor damage to trees
Last Modified: Monday, May 9, 2011 at 8:44 a.m.
Chris Becker is spending a lot of time on the telephone answering questions about insects that are creating quite a buzz around the Shoals.
Periodic cicadas, which were last seen en masse around the Shoals in 1998, are emerging from the soil in huge numbers, prompting many calls to Becker, a regional agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. His office is based in Florence.
“One lady called and was frantic about having thousands of cicadas in her yard,” Becker said.
As many as 1.5 million cicadas can sometimes be found on a single acre in Alabama. Male cicadas produce an extremely loud and incessant buzzing sound as they attempt to attract females.
The cigar-shaped insects with large red eyes look menacing but are harmless, Becker said.
“They don’t bite or sting; they don’t even eat anything” he said. “They come out of the ground just to mate and lay their eggs to produce the next batch of this brood of cicadas which we will see 13 years from now.”
The insects can damage small twigs when the females bore holes in the tender vegetation to lay their eggs. If several females choose the same twig to lay their eggs, it can be killed.
As the eggs hatch, the wingless cicada nymphs will fall to the ground where they will burrow into the soil and spend the next 13 years maturing into adults, Becker said.
While living in the soil, the nymphs will feed on sap from the roots of trees and other plants.
Charles Ray, an Auburn-based entomologist for the extension system, said cicadas do not harm the plants they feed on as nymphs.
The yield of fruit trees where cicadas lay their eggs can be reduced if numerous twigs are killed. Recently transplanted fruit and ornamental trees are sometimes killed by the stress caused by an attack of egg-laying cicadas.
Ray said cheese cloth can be used to protect trees from cicadas. Chemical pesticides are not useful for controlling the insects.
Ray said the cicada invasion will last about six weeks. After reproducing, the adult cicadas die.
This year’s cicada invasion began in mid-April in south Alabama and has gradually spread north. He said the invasion is prompting plenty of calls to Extension System agents and even police agencies.
“There were so many cicadas down here in Lee County that people were hearing their buzzing and calling the sheriff’s department fearing that something was wrong at the steam plant over on the Chattahoochee River,” he said.
The 13-year cicadas are one of several species of the insects found in Alabama. The 13-year species is the most prolific.
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